Supreme Court halts college affirmative action programs

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down affirmative action programs at North Carolina and Harvard University, a major victory for conservative activists.

Court He ruled Both programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution and are therefore illegal. The vote was 6-3 in the UNC case and 6-2 in the Harvard case, with liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recusing himself.

The decision was hailed by mainstream conservatives, who say the Constitution should be “colorblind,” with former President Donald Trump calling the ruling “a great day for America.” Liberals, however, condemned the ruling, saying affirmative action is an important tool to correct historical racial discrimination.

“It’s not perfect, but there’s no doubt that throughout our history, it’s helped give new opportunities to those who have often been denied the opportunity to show how fast they can climb,” said former First Lady Michelle Obama. She was the first black woman in the role.

President Joe Biden called the decision “deeply disappointing” and said his administration would provide guidance on how colleges can maintain diversity without violating the ruling.

University of North Carolina students walk past the campus in Chapel Hill on March 28, 2023.Jonathan Drake/Reuters/Redux

The court effectively overruled The 2003 ruling in Gruter v. Bollinger, in which the court held that race may be considered a factor in the admissions process because universities have a compelling interest in maintaining diverse campuses. In doing so, the court overturned decades of precedent, including a 1978 ruling that upheld limited consideration of race in university admissions as a way to combat historical discrimination against black people and other minorities.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts did not expressly say that previous precedents were overruled, but in a concurring opinion conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, Only the second black judge appointed to the court, Grutter said the case was “for all intents and purposes, overturned.”

Roberts wrote that both programs “do not have sufficiently focused and measurable objectives to warrant the use of race, use race in an unavoidably negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful endpoints.”

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The ruling exposed stark divisions among the justices who sit on a more diverse court than ever before.

Jackson, the first black woman to serve on the court, wrote a dissenting opinion that the verdict was “truly a tragedy for all of us.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, another liberal and the first Hispanic justice, wrote that “the Court is obstructing and setting back decades of exemplary and important progress.”

Sotomayor, in a sign of his displeasure, read a lengthy summary of his dissenting opinion in the courtroom.

Thomas, a longtime critic of affirmative action, wrote his own 58-page opinion in which he called the programs in question “unconscionable, race-based preferences designed to ensure a certain racial mix in entering classes.”

He added that the two policies “fly in the face of our colour-blind constitution and the egalitarian ideal of our country”.

As Thomas read his remarks from the bench, Jackson looked straight ahead and appeared angry.

The ruling is another example of the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, delivering on long-held goals of conservative legal activists. Following the seismic ruling in 2022, Roe v. Wade was cancelled.

The court’s ruling is a major blow to highly selective universities that say some notion of race is essential to ensuring they have a diverse student body.

A small number of schools with highly competitive admissions programs are most affected. They predict that rulings against colleges will lead to significant declines in enrollment of minority students, requiring admissions officers to test new race-neutral programs to counter the impact. Most colleges accept almost all applicants and are not affected.

Yale University, Brown University, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago and Dartmouth College are among the dozens of institutions with admissions policies that take into account.

Roberts left open the possibility that colleges would consider a discussion of race in an individual student’s application, citing the example of someone who personally faced racial discrimination.

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The student “should be treated as an individual based on his experiences — not based on race,” he added.

He also noted that the judgment did not address the consideration of race in military academies. The Biden administration has warned that a ruling limiting affirmative action would harm the U.S. military, which relies on “well-qualified and diverse corps of officers” educated at military academies like West Point and civilian universities.

It is unclear what flexibility colleges will have in adopting race-neutral programs aimed at fostering a diverse student body. Supporters of affirmative action argue that such policies will often fail, leading to declining black and Hispanic enrollment. Opponents point to examples in the nine states that have already banned the practice as evidence that race is not a necessary consideration.

The ruling could have ramifications beyond higher education, including K-12 schools, and puts more pressure on colleges to come up with workable race-neutral programs that foster racial diversity. As similar arguments are made under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination, the decision could lead to future challenges to racial diversity programs used by employers.

In a 2003 ruling, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that affirmative action plans would no longer be required by 2028.

Conservative Justice Brett Kavanagh, in a unanimous opinion, said Thursday’s ruling would first apply to those starting college in 2028 and that the decision did not conflict with the 2003 ruling.

Affirmative action, introduced to address historical discrimination, has been a contentious issue for years, critical to fostering diversity by academic institutions and corporate America, and condemned by conservatives, as opposed to the notion that racial equality is the treatment of all races. The same.

Both challenges were brought by the group Students for Fair Admissions, led by conservative activist Ed Bloom.

“The polarizing, stigmatizing and unfair jurisprudence that has allowed colleges and universities to use a student’s race and ethnicity as a factor in accepting or rejecting students is rejected,” he said in a statement.

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The legal debate that led to the latest ruling was left unresolved by a landmark 1978 Supreme Court decision in which the justices banned racial segregation but opened the door to some considerations of race. That later led to the 2003 Grueter ruling, which again allowed for some affirmative action programs.

In 2016, the Supreme Court’s last ruling on affirmative action, the justices upheld the admissions policy at the University of Texas at Austin in a 4-3 vote, with conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, now retired, casting the deciding vote. .

The court shifted to the right after then-President Donald Trump appointed three conservative justices. Jackson’s nomination by President Joe Biden did not change the court’s ideological balance, as he replaced fellow liberal Justice Stephen Breyer. Because Jackson served on Harvard’s Board of Overseers during the case, he recused himself from the case and participated only in the North Carolina dispute.

Bloom’s group argued that considering race in college admissions was illegal under Title VI and the Constitution. They said UNC’s admissions policy discriminated against white and Asian applicants, and Harvard’s policy discriminated against Asians. In both cases, lower courts ruled in favor of the universities.

In defending their policies, universities and their supporters — including the Biden administration, civil rights groups, businesses and former military leaders — have argued that excluding someone based on race is entirely different from seeking diversity on campus. Universities say race is a factor considered as part of a broader individual analysis of each applicant.

UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said, “The university is committed to bringing together talented students with diverse perspectives and life experiences, and to continuing to provide a high-quality education at an affordable cost to the people of North Carolina and beyond.”

Harvard leaders issued a statement reaffirming their commitment to the “fundamental principle that profound and transformative teaching, learning, and research depend on a community of diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences.”

They added that the university will now “determine, with the court’s new precedent, how best to protect our essential values.”

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