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Supreme Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action


The Supreme Court upended decades of precedent that enabled America’s colleges and universities to build vibrant diverse environments where students are prepared to lead and learn from one another.

The Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor and forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

The court’s conservative majority effectively overturned cases reaching back 45 years in invalidating admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.

Despite the ruling, the Biden-Harris Administration said they will fight to preserve the hard-earned progress to advance racial equity and civil rights and expand educational opportunities for all Americans.

“As our nation’s colleges and universities consider their admissions processes in the wake of the Court’s decision, President Biden is calling on them to seize the opportunity to expand access to educational opportunity for all. Our nation is stronger when our colleges and universities reflect the vast and rich diversity of our people. But while talent, creativity, and hard work are everywhere across this country, equal opportunity is not,” the White House said in a statement.

In a speech, President Joe Biden said, “This is not a normal court” and that the United States needed “a new path forward that is consistent with the law.”

Former president Donald Trump called the decision a “great day for America.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom issued the following statement.

“The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has yet again upended longstanding precedent, changing the law just because they now have the votes to do so, without any care for the costs to society and students around the country. Right-wing activists — including those donning robes — are trying to take us back to the era of book bans and segregated campuses. As Justices Sotomayor and Jackson put it powerfully, no one benefits from ignorance: diverse schools are an essential component of the fabric of our democratic society. While the path to equal opportunity has now been narrowed for millions of students, no court case will ever shatter the California Dream. Our campus doors remain open for all who want to work hard — and our commitment to diversity, equity, and equal opportunity has never been stronger.”

The case involved Harvard University’s undergraduate admissions process. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), an organization led by conservative legal strategist Edward Blum, represented a group of anonymous Asian Americans rejected from Harvard. After a brief pause spurred by the ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas (2016), the District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that Harvard’s admissions process does not discriminate against Asian Americans. SFFA petitioned the Supreme Court in 2021; the Supreme Court granted both cases certiorari and consolidated them under Harvard in January 2022, but following the appointment of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson—a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers at the time—the cases were split with Jackson recusing from the Harvard case while participating in the North Carolina one.

On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court issued a decision that, by a vote of 6–2, reversed the lower court ruling. In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts held that affirmative action in college admissions is unconstitutional.

Affirmative action in the United States is considered to be a wedge issue among Asian Americans, and the practice draws criticism from white and Asian Americans, but support from African Americans and mixed support from Hispanic and Latino Americans. In polling for affirmative action, answers vary depending on how the question is asked, suggesting ambivalence. Among Democrats and Republicans, there is a divide. Opposition to affirmative action emerged in the neoconservative journal The Public Interest, particularly with editor Nathan Glazer’s book Affirmative Discrimination: Ethnic Inequality and Public Policy (1975). In the Roberts Court, eponymous Chief Justice John Roberts questioned the benefits of diversity in a physics class in Fisher II. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have opposed affirmative action; the remaining three conservative justices had no track record of opposing affirmative action before the ruling, although a 1999 article Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in The Wall Street Journal signaled he would end it.

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