Affirmative Action Is Dead: Supreme Court Shuts Down A Pathway To Equity In Higher Ed

Affirmative Action Is Dead: Supreme Court Shuts Down A Pathway To Equity In Higher Ed

With one ruling, the Supreme Court has reversed decades of efforts to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and to increase the representation of minorities in higher education—aka affirmative action. 

On June 29, the Supreme Court decided that the race-conscious admissions systems of Harvard College and the University of North Carolina (UNC) are unconstitutional. This marks the end of affirmative action admission policies at colleges and universities.

According to CNBC, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion with the help of concurrent options of all five of his fellow conservative justices, including Black Justice Clarence Thomas. Eight months after the initial argument, Roberts wrote that Harvard’s and UNC’s highly selective admissions process “unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful endpoints.” As a result, the decision indicated that these policies “cannot be reconciled by the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause” in the 14th Amendment. 

“Many universities have for too long wrongly concluded that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenged bested, skills built, or lessons learned, but the color of their skin. This Nation’s constitutional history does not tolerate that choice,” Roberts wrote.

Liberal Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve on the top U.S. judicial body, was one of three justices who filed a dissenting opinion. Though she recused herself from Harvard’s case last year, Brown Jackson gave weight to America’s legacy of slavery.

“With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all.’ But deeming race irrelevant in law does now make it so in life,” Brown Jackson wrote.

She added: “No one benefits from ignorance. Although formal race-linked legal barriers are gone, race still matters to the lived experience of all Americans in innumerable ways, and today’s ruling makes things worse, not better,” Jackson wrote.

Similarly, fellow liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor hit back hard against the majority’s decision. She implied that it is “entrenching racial inequality in education” and “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.”

However, Thomas, who in 1991 became the second Black person to sit on the bench in the nation’s highest court, blasted Brown Jackson in his concurring opinion. He has acknowledged that he made it to Yale Law School due to affirmative action but claimed that Jackson’s arguments “lock blacks into a seemingly perpetual inferior caste.”

In the aftermath of the decision, BLACK ENTERPRISE obtained a statement from the office of Barack and Michele Obama. The former first lady recalled her experience in college as one of the few Black students on her campus. Though she felt a sense of belonging, she always wondered if students were “granted special consideration for admissions” through affirmative action.

“My heart breaks for any young person out there who’s wondering what their future holds — and what kinds of chances will be open to them. Today is a reminder that we’ve got to do the work not just to enact policies that reflect our values of equity and fairness, but to truly make those values real in all of our schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods,” she wrote.

In an accompanying statement, the former president posed a call to action: “Now it’s up to all of us to give young people the opportunities they deserve — and help students everywhere benefit from new perspectives.”