Supreme Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action, Ending Years of Race-Based Admissions

by | Jun 29, 2023 | Law and Fair Courts

The high court ruled affirmative action policies violate the Constitution, bringing an end to a generations-long battle—and setting a powerful precedent. What other race-based policies might follow?

The Supreme Court ruled against affirmative action practices at U.S. universities on Thursday, when it held that Harvard and UNC’s admissions programs violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

In the cases of Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina and Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the 6-3 opinion rolling back decades of preferential treatment and admission based on race:

The Court has permitted race-based admissions only within the confines of narrow restrictions. University programs must comply with strict scrutiny, they may never use race as a stereotype or negative, and—at some point—they must end.

The Harvard and UNC programs, Roberts wrote, “however well-intentioned and implemented in good faith,” ultimately “fail each of these criteria.”

Roberts held that “training future leaders, acquiring new knowledge based on diverse outlooks, promoting a robust marketplace of ideas, and preparing engaged and productive citizens,” are admirable goals but are immeasurable, adding, “It is unclear how courts are supposed to measure any of these goals, or if they could, to know when they have been reached so that racial preferences can end.”

“The universities’ main response to these criticisms is ‘trust us,’ he continued.

The court added that “nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise. But, despite the dissent’s assertion to the contrary, universities may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today.”

Legal Discrimination

Justice Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion and was joined by Justice Thomas.

“The message for these cases is unmistakable,” Gorsuch wrote. “Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) brought claims against Harvard and UNC under Title VI. That law applies to both institutions, as they elect to receive millions of dollars of federal assistance annually. And the trial records reveal that both schools routinely discriminate on the basis of race when choosing new students—exactly what the law forbids.”

“From this, we can safely say that Title VI forbids a recipient of federal funds from intentionally treating one person worse than another similarly situated person on the ground of race, color, or national origin,” he added. “No one can doubt that both schools intentionally treat some applicants worse than others at least in part because of their race.”

Gorsuch also spoke to the “attempts to divide us all up into a handful of groups” that “have become only more incoherent with time.” The Trump appointee also questioned how a society that is becoming
“increasingly multicultural,” can determine if “someone is really a member of a certain racial or ethnic group.”

Justice Sotomayor dissented along with Justices Kagan and Justice Jackson in part—who recused herself from the UNC case—SCOTUS blog reported:

Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress,” Sotomayor wrote. “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.

Justice Kavanaugh addressed Sotomayor’s dissent in his concurring opinion stating, “I respectfully part ways with my dissenting colleagues on the question of whether, under this Court’s precedents, race-based affirmative action in higher education may extend indefinitely into the future. The dissents suggest that the answer is yes.  But this Court’s precedents make clear that the answer is no.”

A Victory for Merit and the American Way

The Justices made the right decision today to end such practices. Those on the Left who support race-based admissions are likely to find a way around the High Court, but this holding states in no uncertain terms, how two wrongs do not make a right.

Reward—or opportunity—based on hard work and merit are the bedrock of American exceptionalism. This isn’t to say that other factors aren’t considered. Yet to make them the centerpiece of a person’s identity and to force society to accept such standards through legal means, goes against the spirit upon which this nation was founded—that everyone is equal before the law.

The Left’s theft of the term “equity” is hypocritical while defending affirmative action practices, as these measures only help certain citizens and end up being decidedly unequal.

The most important argument made by the court today was to remind the nation of the idea that one day, these policies would no longer be needed because of the decades-long push for diversity would have achieved its goal.

By lobbying for these practices to remain indefinitely, affirmative action advocates go against the very equality they claim to be champions of.

The last thing to consider is whether this decision will send a ripple effect through the federal government, the private sector, and other environments where race is put head and shoulders above all other qualifications.

With an executive branch unwilling to enforce certain laws, it seems unlikely to happen in the near future. This decision, however, may serve as the bedrock for lasting changes that are likely to occur after the election of new political leadership.