Supreme Court Ends Affirmative Action in Education In Landmark Ruling

According to the majority of Supreme Court Justices, affirmative action is no longer constitutional.

In its second landmark ruling in a year, the Washington Post reports that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race cannot be used in college admissions, which not only will likely change the direction that universities and colleges in the United States take on race and admissions but may impact decades of landmark cases involving the issue.

The  Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the University of North Carolina case, and 6-2 in the Harvard University case, but with six conservative justices on the Court, it's not unimaginable to believe how this decision was made. 

The ruling involved a Harvard University group calling itself Students for Fair Admission, which accused the school of holding Asian-American students to a higher educational standard than it does African American or Hispanic students.

Affirmative Action

Poll: More Americans Disapprove Than Approve Of College Affirmative Action

The conservative-leaning high court also rules in favor of the same group that accused the University of North Carolina of discriminating against white and Asian-American applicants by favoring the admission of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the use of affirmative action in admissions policies, Democrats for Education Reform DC (DFER DC) released the following statement:

“By gutting equitable access to our country’s higher education system, today's majority conservative Supreme Court ruled against Black and Brown students’ access to the American Dream,” said Jessica Giles, Executive Director of DFER DC. “This ruling erases decades of progress – a particularly concerning reality given our higher-education system continues to uphold systemic, racist barriers to entry that keep doors of opportunity closed on Black and Brown students.”

Rev. Al Sharpton, President and Founder of the National Action Network (NAN), blasts the Supreme Court decision, issuing a statement that states, "The Supreme Court just stuck a dagger in the back of Black America. Affirmative action was a commonly embraced policy because it served as a check on an admission process that was rife with racism, nepotism, and favoritism for generations. The reality is race plays a factor in admissions, from pre-K to post-doctorate, and institutions just saw their best tool for fairness outlawed."

Described as a "moderate conservative" Justice John Roberts wrote that universities can still consider "an applicant's discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise." The assumption is that students can still use race as a factor in their application process through essays and student statements. 

It should be noted that the decision does not include military academies. And while ending race-based admissions programs would lead to a significant drop in Black and Hispanic students, it may lead to an increase in admissions at historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

How Did the Supreme Court Get Here?

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself from the decision in the Harvard case, having pledged to do so during her confirmation hearing last year. She had served on the board of overseers at Harvard.

The decision to end affirmative action will likely have a resounding impact on collegiate education in America and possibly other areas where the affirmative action concept is applied, like government contracting and public sector employment.  

Affirmative action practices stretch back to 1961 when President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, urging government contractors to "take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin."

Reactions To The End Of Affirmative Action in College Admissions

The controversial decision has sparked responses from leading voices and political figures including former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama.

"Affirmative action was never a complete answer in the drive towards a more just society. But for generations of students who had been systematically excluded from most of America’s key institutions—it gave us the chance to show we more than deserved a seat at the table.  In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision, it’s time to redouble our efforts," posted President Obama. 

Mrs. Obama stated, "My heart breaks for any young person out there who's wondering what their future holds- and what kinds of chances will be open to them. And while I know the strength and grit that lies inside kids who have always had to sweat a little more to climb the same ladders, I hope and pray that the rest of us are willing to sweat a little, too."

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