After three decades of affirmative action policies, the Supreme Court has ended the use of race-conscious
admissions in U.S. schools. The Court ruled that affirmative action policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as well as guidelines set forth by previous Supreme Court decisions.
“Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts in the Supreme Court opinion. “Accordingly, the Court has held that the Equal Protection Clause applies without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality — it is universal in its application. For the guarantee of equal protection cannot mean one thing when applied to one individual and something else when applied to a person of another color.’”
Roberts clarified that college applicants could still include their race in their applications, but only in relation to their specific, individual experiences.
“A benefit to a student who overcame racial discrimination, for example, must be tied to that student’s courage and determination. Or a benefit to a student whose heritage or culture motivated him or her to assume a leadership role or attain a particular goal must be tied to that student’s unique ability to contribute to the university. In other words, the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion, stated that affirmative action policies serve only to increase the power of stereotypes, when race should be treated as merely a construct.
Affirmative action has been a piece of college admissions since the 1960s, and was upheld in 1978 when the Supreme Court ruled that race could be a factor in admitting applicants in University of California v. Bakke. The Court’s decision, in the words of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, “reverses decades of precedent.”
“In so holding, the Court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in her dissenting opinion. “The Court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society.”
In response to the ruling, Minnesota Office of Higher Education Commissioner Dennis Olson released a statement that Minnesota schools and policies will continue to promote inclusivity, and “will continue partnering with our colleges and universities to ensure higher education in Minnesota is inclusive and equitable.”
Both cases brought before the court were brought by Students for Fair Admissions, founded by Edward Blume, a vocal opponent of affirmative action policies. He has been recruiting students who believe they were unfairly rejected by universities to use as plaintiffs against affirmative action He previously had a case in front of the Supreme Court in 2019, where the court ruled in favor of Harvard.
The 6-3 decision is part of a larger string of decisions in the past week that impact millions of Americans. Other rulings allowed businesses to refuse serving same-sex couples and ended President Biden’s plan to eliminate $400 billion in college debt.