June 29, 2023
By Rich Miller
The Supreme Court on Thursday held that admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina that relied in part on racial considerations violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, a historic ruling that will force a dramatic change in how the nation’s private and public universities select their students.
The votes split along ideological grounds, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing for the conservative members in the majority, and the liberals dissenting.
“The student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race,” Roberts wrote. “Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.” […]
In dissent on Thursday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that it is is “a disturbing feature of today’s decision that the Court does not even attempt to make the extraordinary showing required” to reverse precedent.
Sotomayor has said her own life is an example of how affirmative action programs can work. In her 69-page dissent, she wrote: “Equal educational opportunity is a prerequisite to achieving racial equality in our Nation.” […]
In his concurring opinion, [Justice Clarence Thomas] directly engaged with Jackson, one of the court’s most liberal members, and the only other Black justice. In Jackson’s view, “almost all of life’s outcomes may be unhesitatingly ascribed to race,” Thomas wrote.
* Partnership for College Completion…
In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action through cases Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina in a 6-2 and 6-3 ruling respectively, the Partnership for College Completion (PCC) remains committed to ensuring racial equity is at the forefront of the work we do in higher education and urges bold action from legislators and institutional stakeholders in the wake of this decision that turns its back on enduring racial inequities within our higher education institutions.
“Simply put, the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action is a step back and will hurt students of color, Black students in particular, who have worked hard to gain access to places of higher learning across our country,” Director of Policy and Advocacy Christian Perry said. “The Partnership urges lawmakers, advocates, and institutions to speak out against this decision and not allow it to hinder our efforts to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity through admissions and financial aid processes, as well as on campus once students are enrolled.”
While affirmative action alone was never enough to dismantle all barriers students of color face in accessing higher education, it was a crucial factor for institutions to consider in admissions decisions and was upheld in a number of cases, including as recently as 2016. As college access and degree completion disparities remain significant between white students and students of color, we must continue to push our institutions and leaders to urgently use every available opportunity to correct these wrongs, even now that the affirmative action decision will add one more obstacle to equity.
“We don’t have to let an unjust ruling from the Supreme Court determine how we serve our students – we can still transform our institutions to be more racially equitable and representative of the population of our state and nation. From admissions to degree completion, let’s use this moment to work with state policymakers to give institutions the tools they need to create better policies to ensure all of our students can not only access higher education but also obtain their degrees,” Perry said.
In the wake of this decision to strike down decades of precedent, institutions, and lawmakers will need to be thoughtful in order to maintain and increase racial diversity on our college campuses.