The conservative supermajority of the Supreme Court has once again done away with a long-standing American precedent — ruling against the use of affirmative action at U.S. colleges. The case before the court specifically centered on the race-based admissions practices at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, but will surely affect all major universities' admissions processes and decisions going forward. It may have even farther reaching implications, forcing employers to reevaluate how they consider race and ethnicity in their hiring decisions, and reducing the number of available highly credentialed minority candidates for certain jobs.
Like with the abortion ruling, affirmative action is a highly divisive issue across the country, yet is generally supported by the liberal and moderate population of Americans. It should come as no surprise then that the six justices to rule against race-based admissions policies were the six conservative judges on the court — John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett. The liberal justices — Sonia Sotomayor, Ketanji Brown Jackson, and Elena Kagen — all dissented.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the 6-3 majority, said the two universities in the case “unavoidably employ race in a negative manner” and “involve racial stereotyping,” in a manner he deemed unconstitutional. He argued that although universities can consider how race has affected an applicant’s life, students still “must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor took the important symbolic step of summarizing her dissent from the bench — a rare move that is used to express strong disagreement. The court, Sotomayor wrote, was “further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society.”
“The devastating impact of this decision cannot be overstated,” she said in her profound dissent. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson also wrote a dissenting opinion.
Legal experts believe the affirmative action ruling will lead to the student population at the campuses of elite universities becoming whiter and more Asian and less Black and Latino. It is a sad day for those who value diversity as an integral part of the higher educational experience.