The United States Supreme Court has banned affirmative action from college admissions, CNN has reported. According to the ground-breaking verdict, universities can no longer take race into consideration as a specific basis for granting admission. The landmark decision will affect thousands of Black and Latino students who could access higher education because of the policy.
Over the past year, affirmative action has hung in the balance as the Supreme Court heard two cases brought by the Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. In both cases, SFFA, led by anti-affirmative action crusader Edward Blum after previous failed efforts, sought the elimination of all race-conscious admissions practices. The SFFA claims that affirmative action policies amounted to illegal and unconstitutional racial discrimination, particularly against white and Asian applicants who might “lose out in a zero-sum admissions process if their Black and Latino peers were to get preference,” the New York Times had reported.
Twice before, the Supreme Court had rejected Blum’s arguments and ruled that universities can consider race in admissions to promote diversity on campus and enrich students’ learning experience. However, this time the conservative majority in the Supreme Court meant that six of the nine justices were in favor of ending race-based admissions practices.
In a ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion for the conservative majority, saying the Harvard and University of North Carolina admissions programs violated the Equal Protection Clause because they failed to offer “measurable” objectives to justify the use of race. He said the programs involve racial stereotyping and had no specific end point. “The Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause. Both 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. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today,” Roberts wrote.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, issued a fiery dissent, saying the opinion “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.” “The result of today’s decision is that a person’s skin color may play a role in assessing individualized suspicion, but it cannot play a role in assessing that person’s individualized contributions to a diverse learning environment,” Sotomayor wrote. “That indefensible reading of the Constitution is not grounded in law and subverts the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.”
Many experts believe that this ruling will have a major impact on the US education system. When pulling out of the US News rankings, Columbia University Provost Mary Boyce had written that the expected Supreme Court decision ending affirmative action “may well lead to a reassessment of admissions policies in ways we can’t even contemplate at this point.”
Universities had already started preparing for such a verdict. Many have put their own measures into place to ensure that race is represented. Ahead of the verdict, the Common App announced it will let colleges hide students' self-reported race and ethnicity data from admissions officials starting in August, the New York Times reported. The move could also help insulate them during lawsuits over admissions decisions, which are expected to increase now after the verdict.
But all hope might not be lost. Worth note, there is a major concession at the end of the 230-some-odd page opinion, subsection (f) which states:
"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."
This could mean a variety of things based on how universities interpret the latest verdict.
If you have questions about how this decision will affect your application, please reach out to one of our academic advisors.