In a significant blow to affirmative action, the Supreme Court has struck down race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC). This ruling not only impacts these elite institutions but also sets a precedent that may spread to other areas, such as employment and housing, signaling a worrisome backward trend in promoting diversity and addressing historical inequalities.
The court’s decision, with a 6 to 3 vote and the liberal members in dissent, effectively disavows the use of race as a factor in achieving educational diversity. This outcome will likely result in a student population at elite colleges and universities that is predominantly white and Asian, while reducing the representation of Black and Latino students. It is worth noting that the court had previously endorsed the consideration of race to promote educational diversity.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, argued that the admissions programs at Harvard and UNC could not be reconciled with the equal protection clause. He cited the lack of sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, the negative employment of race, racial stereotyping, and the absence of meaningful end points as reasons for the ruling. However, he clarified that universities could still consider an applicant’s discussion of how race affected their life, as long as the evaluation focused on individual experiences rather than race as a determining factor.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor voiced her strong dissent from the bench, emphasizing that the ruling reinforces a shallow interpretation of colorblindness in a society that remains deeply segregated, where race continues to matter. She argued that the decision further entrenches racial inequality in education, undermining equal protection and the foundations of a democratic and pluralistic society.
This ruling is expected to have far-reaching implications beyond college admissions. It may prompt schools across the nation to reassess their admissions practices, potentially limiting diversity efforts and making it harder for employers to consider race in hiring decisions. The decision exemplifies the court’s conservative majority’s trend of overturning long-standing jurisprudence and reshaping critical aspects of American life, including abortion, guns, and now race, within a remarkably short span of time.
The cases against Harvard and UNC, brought by Students for Fair Admissions, challenged race-conscious admissions policies. The plaintiffs alleged discrimination against white and Asian applicants, while the universities defended their policies, asserting that they fostered educational diversity and were lawful under existing Supreme Court precedents.
The effects of this ruling are likely to extend to professional degree programs, such as medical and law schools, where the number of Black and Latino students may decline. Concerns have been raised about the impact on the medical profession’s diversity, as states that have banned race-conscious admissions have already experienced a significant drop in the number of minority medical students. This exacerbates existing health inequities, as studies show that patients often fare better when treated by doctors of their own race or ethnicity.
The American Bar Association also expressed concerns about the ruling, stating that affirmative action plays a vital role in ensuring a racially diverse legal profession and judiciary, essential for the legitimacy of the legal system.
While the immediate impact of this ruling may be most pronounced at highly selective institutions, where race-conscious admissions were more prevalent, it is crucial to recognize that the majority of colleges and universities in the country have more inclusive admissions policies that do not consider race or ethnicity. However, it is still essential to address the lack of diversity and social mobility in these institutions, which often serve racially and socioeconomically homogeneous populations.
To make higher education more accessible, colleges and universities must engage with disadvantaged students starting at an early age, ensuring that they feel valued and encouraged to pursue higher education. This extends beyond making a case for college and addressing financial concerns; it requires actively reaching out and showing these students that they are wanted and respected.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s ruling against race-based admissions at Harvard and UNC marks a regressive step for affirmative action. This decision is likely to have a ripple effect on various areas, including employment and housing, perpetuating historical inequalities. It is crucial to recognize the importance of promoting diversity and addressing racial disparities in our education system and beyond, to build a more equitable and inclusive society.