Supreme Court Releases Opinion on Affirmative Action

June 29, 2023

… the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race. Many universities have for too long done just the opposite.

United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion for the court, which ruled 6-3 that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s admissions processes cannot explicitly consider race in admitting students.

What To Know: On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the admissions policies of the two oldest public and private universities in the U.S. are unconstitutional. The Wall Street Journal explains, “Both schools said that, consistent with decades of Supreme Court precedent, a minority applicant’s race could serve as an unenumerated plus factor that raised chances of admission,” however, the Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “in doing so, they 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,” continuing, “Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Why It Matters: This ruling severely limits affirmative action policies at colleges across the nation, especially at exclusive universities which accept a limited number of students. The syllabus of the Court’s opinion states, “Because Harvard’s and UNC’s admissions programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points, those admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause. At the same time, nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant’s life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university.”

Excerpt from a dissenting opinion written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor: “Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress. It holds that race can no longer be used in a limited way in college admissions to achieve such critical benefits. 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. 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.”

After the ruling, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow and other officials said, “To prepare leaders for a complex world, Harvard must admit and educate a student body whose members reflect, and have lived, multiple facts of human experience. No part of what makes us who we are could ever be irrelevant,” noting that they would comply with the ruling while still pursuing a diverse student body.

Read the Supreme Court’s opinion HERE

by Jenna Lee,