Supreme Court ends affirmative action in colleges

Holton Hall contains administrative offices and student services, including the Office of Student Life. Feb 13, 2020. (Archive photo by Dylan Connell | Collegian Media Group)

On Thursday the Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action in college admission processes. 

The conservative majority Court heard cases involving race-focused admissions practices at Harvard and the University of North Carolina before ruling against the universities in votes of 6-2 and 6-3, respectively. 

Both colleges utilized affirmative action, meaning the schools considered the applicant’s race in the process of determining who would be accepted. 

Among the Students for Fair Admissions — the petitioner’s — concerns were that students’ civil rights were being violated and the programs discriminate against nonminority applicants.

The opinion of the Court, delivered by Chief Justice John Roberts, outlined why the schools’ admissions programs conflicted with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause.

“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,” Roberts said. “We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today.”

Roberts summarized the Court’s decision, saying, “The student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the Supreme Court’s first Black female justice, wrote in dissent, “With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”

Jackson said the Court’s ruling interferes with the “crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America’s real-world problems.”

“If the colleges of this country are required to ignore a thing that matters, it will not just go away. It will take longer for racism to leave us,” Jackson said. “And, ultimately, ignoring race just makes it matter more.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, in agreement with the Court’s decision, wrote, “Our precedents have repeatedly and soundly distinguished between programs designed to compensate victims of past governmental discrimination from so-called benign race-conscious measures, such as affirmative action.”

Thomas, the country’s second Black justice, said, “The Constitution continues to embody a simple truth: Two discriminatory wrongs cannot make a right.”

Because of affirmative action, Thomas said minorities may doubt if they achieved academic success through their own hard work or because of their skin color. 

“Consequently, ‘[w]hen blacks’ and, now, Hispanics ‘take positions in the highest places of government, industry, or academia, it is an open question … whether their skin color played a part in their advancement,’” Thomas wrote. 

Roberts said, “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise. “

President Joe Biden said he “strongly, strongly disagree[s] with the Court’s decision.”

Lower courts ruled in favor of Harvard and UNC, rejecting claims of discrimination against white and Asian American applicants before the case went to the Supreme Court. Those judgements have been reversed.