In a significant victory for conservative activists, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday invalidated affirmative action policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, putting an end to the systematic consideration of race in admissions.
The Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution is violated by both programs, the court found, and as a result they are both illegal. In the UNC case, the result was 6-3, and in the Harvard case, when liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was recused, the vote was 6-2.
Leading conservatives applauded the decision, arguing that the Constitution should be “colorblind,” with former President Donald Trump describing it as “a great day for America.” Liberals, on the other hand, denounced the decision, arguing that affirmative action is an important instrument for redressing historical racial discrimination.
Former first lady Michelle Obama, the first Black woman to hold the position, said, “It wasn’t perfect, but there’s no doubt that it helped offer new ladders of opportunity for those who, throughout our history, have too often been denied a chance to show how fast they can climb.”
The judgment, according to President Joe Biden, was a “serious disappointment,” and he added that his government will offer recommendations on how institutions could maintain diversity without breaking the law.
The Grutter v. Bollinger decision from 2003, which stated that race could be taken into account during the admissions process because colleges had a compelling interest in preserving diverse campuses, was effectively reversed by the court.
In order to end historical discrimination against Black people and other minorities, the court overturned decades of precedent, including a 1978 decision that supported a limited consideration of race in university admissions.
Chief Justice John Roberts did not specifically state that the earlier precedents were overruled in the majority opinion, but in a concurring opinion, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas—the court’s only other Black justice—stated that the Grutter case was “for all intents and purposes, overruled.”
Roberts wrote that both programs “lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points.”
The decision showed the glaring differences between the justices, who sit on a court that is more diverse than ever.
In a dissenting opinion, Jackson, the first Black woman to sit on the court, stated that the decision was “truly a tragedy for us all.”
The first Hispanic justice and fellow liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that the court “stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.”
Sotomayor expressed her disapproval by reading aloud in the courtroom a lengthy description of her dissenting opinion.
The programs in question, according to Thomas, a long-time opponent of affirmative action, are “rudderless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a particular racial mix in the entering classes.” Thomas’ 58-page judgment is available online.
Both of the policies “fly in the face of our nation’s equality ideal and our colour-blind Constitution,” he continued.
Jackson looked straight ahead and was extremely irritated as Thomas read his view from the bench.
The decision is yet another instance of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority upholding conservative legal activists’ long-held objectives. It comes after the seismic ruling in 2022 that nullified Roe v. Wade, the seminal judgment from 1973 that established a right to abortion.
The court’s ruling is a big setback for the most elite universities, who maintain that taking race into account is essential to having a diverse student body.
The few schools that have admissions processes that are fiercely competitive are most affected. They forecast that decisions against the universities will result in a sharp decline in the number of minority students enrolled, forcing admissions managers to test out novel racial-neutral strategies to mitigate the effect. Most institutions accept practically all applicants, therefore they won’t be as significantly impacted.
Yale University, Brown University, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College are just a few of the several institutions that have admissions procedures that take race into consideration.