The Supreme Court rejected affirmative action at Harvard and UNC

Supreme Court on Thursday He ruled Outlawing race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina has spurred affirmative action at colleges and universities across the country that have long been a pillar of higher education.

The vote was 6 to 3, with liberal members of the court dissenting.

“The Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot compromise the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantees,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor briefed her dissent from the bench, a rare move that signaled deep dissent.

“The Court undermines the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the bedrock of our democratic government and pluralistic society,” he said in his written dissent.

This decision ensured that the student population on the campuses of elite institutions became whiter, and more Asian, black, and Latino. It was expected to start a struggle as schools rethink their admissions practices, and it could complicate diversity efforts elsewhere, reduce the pipeline of highly recognized minority candidates and make it harder for employers to consider race in hiring.

More broadly, the ruling demonstrated that the court’s conservative majority continues to move at a fast pace over decades to improve the judiciary and redefine aspects of American life on controversial issues like abortion, guns and now race.

“Bottom line,” Justice Sotomayor wrote, “six unelected members of today’s majority upend the status quo based on their preferences for how race in America should be, but not how it should be, and colorblindness in a society. Race has always mattered and will continue to matter in fact and in law.”

Admissions officers may sometimes take race into account, the chief justice wrote. “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race has affected his or her life, whether it be discrimination, motivation or otherwise,” he wrote.

The point, he said, is that applicants should be evaluated individually. “In other words,” he wrote, “the student should be treated as an individual on the basis of his experiences—not on the basis of race.”

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Judge Sotomayor said it was thin pulp.

“This recognition that universities may, under certain circumstances, consider race in application essays is nothing more than an attempt to put lipstick on a pig,” he wrote.

But he acknowledged that most colleges and universities have few tools in place to admit students from diverse backgrounds, particularly by focusing on socioeconomic factors.

Educational diversity, the Chief Justice wrote, is a laudable goal where students from different backgrounds learn from each other. But he added that when race is a factor, it resists the judicial scrutiny required because it cannot be measured.

In the dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the majority effectively rejected the rationale that had justified affirmative action for decades.

“Without any new factual or legal reasoning, the Court overturns its longstanding holding that diversity in higher education has a compelling value. To avoid public accountability for its choice, the Court seeks to hide behind a unique measurement requirement of its own creation.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanagh and Amy Coney Barrett joined the Chief Justice’s majority opinion. Justices Elena Kagan and Katanji Brown Jackson joined in Justice Sotomayor’s dissent.

In all, the six justices issued opinions, collectively spanning more than 200 pages, notable for sometimes harsh language and starkly contrasting accounts of the nation’s history and the role race plays in contemporary society.

For example, both sides, in Brown v. offered competing understandings of the meaning of the Board of Education’s landmark 1954 decision prohibiting racial segregation in public schools. The lesson of Brown, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “is that the days of creating distinctions based on race are over.”

Justice Sotomayor said the decision stood for a different policy and accused the majority of engaging in revisionist history. “Brown is a racially conscious decision that emphasizes the importance of education in our society,” he wrote.

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He added: “At the risk of being blindly obvious, as Brown recognized, the 14th Amendment was intended to undo the effects of a world in which laws systematically subjugated black people and created a racist caste system. Brown and its progeny recognized the need to take concrete, race-conscious steps to dismantle the system.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Ketanji Brown Jackson, the black members of the court, traded particularly sharp barbs.

Justice Thomas wrote of Justice Jackson, “We are all inexorably trapped in a fundamentally racist society, where the original sin of slavery and the historic subjugation of black Americans still determine our lives today.”

Justice Jackson responded that his colleague’s “sustained attack was in response to an unwritten dissent I wrote to attack an admissions program designed by UNC,” adding, “Justice Thomas’s opinion reveals an obsession with racial sentiment. My or UNC’s complete understanding is that race is a factor affecting applicants’ personal life experiences.” May be.

He said he won’t go into each of his points, as “Judge Thomas ignites too many straw men to list or fully extinguish here.” (Judge Jackson recused himself from the Harvard case, serving on one of the university’s governing boards.)

Chief Justice Roberts, in a footnote, limited the decision in one way, saying the court had not decided whether military academies could take race into account in their admissions decisions.

The two cases ruled on Thursday are not identical. As a public university, UNC is bound by both the equal protection provisions of the Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination by agencies receiving federal money. Harvard, a private institution, is governed only by law.

In the North Carolina case, the plaintiffs said the university discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to black, Hispanic and Native American applicants. The university responded that its admissions policies promote academic diversity and are legal under longstanding Supreme Court precedents.

The lawsuit against Harvard has an additional dimension, accusing the university of discriminating against Asian American students by using a subjective standard to measure traits such as willingness, courage and compassion, effectively creating a ceiling for them in admissions.

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Harvard’s attorneys said the challengers relied on a flawed statistical analysis and denied the university discriminated against Asian American applicants. More generally, they said, race-conscious admissions policies were legitimate.

Both cases – against students for fair admissions. Harvard, no. 20-1199, and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, No. 21-707 – Brought by Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded by Edward Bloom, a legal activist who has organized numerous lawsuits challenging race-conscious admissions policies and voting rights laws, many of which have reached the Supreme Court.

Both universities won in federal trial courts, and the decision in Harvard’s favor was upheld by a federal appeals court.

was a prime example Crater v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court in 2003 upheld comprehensive admissions programs, allowing consideration of race to achieve academic diversity. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the majority in that case, said she expects that “25 years from now,” or in 2028, “the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary.”

Chief Justice Roberts wrote Thursday, “There is no reason to believe that respondents — acting in good faith — will comply with the Equal Protection Clause any time soon.”

In his concurring opinion, Justice Thomas wrote that the majority opinion “correctly makes clear that, for all intents and purposes, Crutter was disregarded.”

For his part, Judge Sotomayor struck a negative note.

“The pursuit of racial discrimination will continue,” he wrote. “Even if the Court eliminated all use of race in college admissions, universities could continue to use all available tools to meet society’s need for diversity in education. Despite the Court’s use of unreasonable authority, today’s opinion will only serve to highlight the Court’s own impotence in the face of America’s cries for equality.

Zach Montag Contributed report.

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