In a significant setback to affirmative action policies, the United States Supreme Court outlawed race as a factor in college admissions programs on June 29, at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina as a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. It is worth noting that affirmative action policies, also known as positive discrimination, exist to increase the representation of Black, Hispanic and other minority groups on college campuses. U.S. President Joe Biden has strongly disagreed with the much-anticipated decision and has said, “We cannot let this decision be the last word. Discrimination still exists in America. This is not a normal court,” he added of the nine justices, who are ideologically split between six conservatives and three liberals. The decision was 6-3 against the University of North Carolina and 6-2 against Harvard.
The Supreme Court decision was taken in favor of Students for Fair Admissions run by a legal activist Edward Blum. The organization argued that Harvard’s admission policy violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which bars discrimination based on race, color or national origin. Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities 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. Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause.” Justice Roberts was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, giving rise to one of the most spirited court debates to occur within the Supreme Court.
United States’ second black Justice and a conservative who has long called for an end to affirmative action, Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote that such programs were “patently unconstitutional.” He further said, “Universities’ self-proclaimed righteousness does not afford them license to discriminate based on race.” However, a liberal justice and first black woman to be appointed at the SC, Ketanji Brown, dissented from the decision and labeled it a “tragedy for us all.” She said, “With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘color blindness for all’ by legal fiat.” Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in dissent, ”Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.”
The organization Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard College in 2014 for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, penalizing Asian American students and failing to employ race-neutral practices. But the Supreme Court twice backed the affirmative action program at both of these U.S. universities. Several U.S. states like Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nebraska and Washington already have bans on race-based college admissions in place. Other states back affirmative action policies on campus as a remedy to racial inequality and bringing a range of perspectives to the table.
Yukong Zhao, president of the Asian American Coalition for Education, welcomed the ruling as he said that the policy negatively affected Asian American students’ odds of enrolment at elite schools. He said, “This decision will preserve meritocracy, which is the bedrock of the American dream.”
Former U.S. President Donald Trump hailed the decision as a ”great day” and said on social media that Americans with ‘’extraordinary ability and everything else necessary for success” are “finally being rewarded.’’ Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas who has also stood for negating race-conscious admissions by challenging the Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 landmark ruling said on June 29, “Both Harvard and UNC have had long and ugly traditions of discrimination, Harvard with its anti-Jewish quotas in the 20th century and UNC with racial segregation — that made it impossible for a prospective student to be judged on his or her merit, rather than their skin color or religious background. These universities eventually ended these forms of overt discrimination, instead substituting them for a different, more subtle form of discrimination in Affirmative Action.”