Supreme Court Decision Ends Affirmative Action in College Admissions

Supreme Court rejects affirmative action, ending use of race as factor in college admissions

Supreme Court Decision Ends Affirmative Action in College Admissions

In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has declared that race-conscious admission policies employed by Harvard College and the University of North Carolina are unconstitutional, thereby putting an end to affirmative action in higher education. The decision, which was divided along ideological lines, will have far-reaching implications for campuses nationwide.

Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, authored the majority opinion in both the University of North Carolina and Harvard cases. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a strong dissenting opinion, read aloud for the first time this term, expressing her disagreement with the majority’s decision.

According to Roberts, the admission programs of Harvard and UNC fail to align with the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. He argued that these programs lack clear and measurable objectives justifying the use of race, perpetuate negative racial stereotypes, and lack meaningful endpoint criteria. Roberts emphasized that evaluating students based on their individual experiences, rather than their race, is paramount.

However, Roberts clarified that universities can still consider an applicant’s discussion of how race influenced their life experiences, including instances of discrimination, inspiration, or other relevant factors. The decision does not apply to military academies due to their distinct interests.

Sotomayor strongly dissented, asserting that the majority opinion disregards both legal and factual foundations and undermines the principle of equality enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment. She criticized the ruling for preventing race from being used in college admissions as a means to achieve critical benefits and perpetuating racial inequality in education, which in turn affects the fabric of our democratic society.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who recused herself from the Harvard case, expressed her dissent in the University of North Carolina case. As the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, she criticized the majority’s decision for straying away from the reality of real-life circumstances. Jackson argued that the court’s intervention hinders the noble generational project of American universities and engages in a misguided sociological experiment.

The ruling represents a departure from previous Supreme Court decisions, including the landmark 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger, which allowed schools to consider race as a factor in admissions. Justice Thomas, in his concurring opinion, suggested that the 2003 decision has effectively been overruled. Sotomayor accused the conservative majority of overturning decades of precedent.

This decision is part of a trend in which the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has overturned longstanding precedents, impacting various aspects of American life. In the previous term, the court reversed the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade, raising concerns about the fate of other established precedents, including those supporting race-conscious admissions programs.

Affirmative action refers to policies implemented by educational institutions or employers to promote diversity by considering candidates’ race. The concept emerged in the 1960s to address racial discrimination, but it has remained a contentious issue. Critics argue that affirmative action itself constitutes racial discrimination against non-minorities. Proponents, however, contend that race should be part of a holistic evaluation process to enhance diversity and ensure equal access to educational institutions for underrepresented groups.

Nine states have banned affirmative action at public universities, namely Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Washington.

The cases involving Harvard and the University of North Carolina were initiated in November 2014 by Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded by conservative activist Ed Blum. The organization alleged that both universities’ admissions policies discriminated against Asian-American applicants. The lawsuits claimed that Harvard assigned lower ratings to Asian-American students based on personality traits and imposed a limit on the number of Asian-American applicants accepted. In the University of North Carolina case, Students for Fair Admissions argued that the university violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by disregarding race-neutral alternatives to achieve diversity.

Lower courts had upheld the affirmative action policies of both institutions, stating that race was just one factor among many considered in their holistic admissions processes, consistent with the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Grutter. However, the composition of the Supreme Court had significantly changed since then, with only Justice Sotomayor remaining from the previous majority.

The Biden administration expressed concerns about the potential impact of ending race-conscious admissions programs, as they contribute to diversity not only in universities but also in the nation as a whole. President Biden condemned the Supreme Court’s rejection of affirmative action, emphasizing that the decision does not reflect the core values of America as a nation of hope, opportunity, and fairness.

Both Harvard and the University of North Carolina have responded to the ruling, with UNC stating its commitment to comply with the decision and Harvard expressing its dedication to diversity in its student body. Harvard acknowledged that it would assess how to uphold its essential values within the framework set by the Court’s precedent.

It is important to note that the information provided here is accurate as of the court’s ruling and the Biden administration’s response.

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