Supreme Court Knocks Down Affirmative Action

In two cases on June 29, the Supreme Court severely restricted the use of race as a criterion for college admissions, including professional schools like law, medicine, and nursing.

This overturned decades-old affirmative action policies that American institutions have used to choose students from their applicant pools.

Many in the medical field are disappointed by the decision since they have worked hard in recent years to increase the percentage of Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous practitioners.

Several medical schools have shifted to using race as one consideration in admissions decisions to boost the number of students from underrepresented groups and help overcome access hurdles like MCAT testing that favor kids from affluent households.

The six conservative justices of the Court dissented along ideological lines when they ruled that Harvard's and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's (UNC) admissions procedures were unlawful because they did not adhere to the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection.

According to Chief Justice John Roberts, both programs use race in an inherently negative way, engage in racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful endpoints because they lack specific and quantifiable objectives to support their use.

We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today. At the same time, as all parties agree, 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.

- Chief Justice John Roberts

According to Roberts, the student has to be handled according to their unique experiences rather than based on race. For far too long, many colleges have acted the opposite way.

They have incorrectly concluded that a person's identity is not determined by obstacles overcome, abilities developed, or lessons learned but by their skin color. He continued that the nation's constitutional background forbids such a decision.

In a rare occurrence, the conservative Justice Clarence Thomas read his concurring opinion from the bench and argued in favor of an interpretation of the Constitution that is colorblind.

"The Court today makes clear that, in the future, universities wishing to discriminate based on race in admissions must articulate and justify a compelling and measurable state interest based on concrete evidence. Given the strictures set out by the Court, I highly doubt any will be able to do so," said Thomas.

The Court's ruling furthers conservative legal strategist Edward Blum's litigation campaign. Nearly ten years ago, Blum founded Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) and sued Harvard and UNC separately over their admissions practices.

Before the justices, the Biden administration had supported the two colleges. But after affirmative action at schools fended off several prior Supreme Court challenges, the Court's increasingly conservative complexion has seriously affected the practice.

The President of the American Medical Association, Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, previously said: "Efforts to do away with affirmative action undermine decades of progress in creating a diverse physician workforce and will reverse gains made in the battle against health disparities."

He continued that they must maintain their efforts to increase the number of competent and highly qualified medical students from historically underrepresented communities.

After the decision was announced, the Harvard Black Students Association wrote: "The elimination of race-conscious admissions is an erasure of our stories, contributions, and selves. It is evident that the college application system cannot maintain holistic evaluation without taking into consideration how race profoundly influences our experiences, perspectives, and identities in multifaceted ways."

The justices considered SFFA's objections separately after Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson took her seat on the bench last year. Jackson had previously served on the Harvard Board of Overseers and had consented to disqualify herself from that school's case during her confirmation hearing.

Given Jackson's recusal in the latter case, the Court ruled 6-2 against Harvard and 6-3 against UNC. When deciding an issue on the University of California's policy of allocating 16 out of 100 seats to members of a particular minority, the Supreme Court established the basic foundations for affirmative action in 1978.

The judges overturned the quota system in a divided ruling, although no viewpoint received the most votes. Lower courts were left debating whether to rely on Justice Lewis Powell's view as law, whose decisive vote rendered the quota illegal but more generally sustaining admissions based on race.

In the years that followed, schools nationwide based their affirmative action policies on Powell's viewpoint.

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

- Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice

The decisions made "cement a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter."

She went on to say that it was confirmed that race could no longer be exploited in college admissions in a restricted way to accomplish such significant benefits.

By adopting this stance, the Court solidifies the simple colorblindness rule as a fundamental constitutional norm in a country that has historically been and is still racially stratified.


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