The U.S. Supreme Court has recently ruled that colleges and universities can no longer use race as a factor in their admissions decisions, effectively striking down the decades-long practice of affirmative action.
This decision has significantly impacted schools’ admission tactics and could potentially lead to less diverse student bodies.
The court’s decision was a 6-3 ruling against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s admissions policies, which took race into account. These cases were brought forward by Students for Fair Admissions, who argued that these policies violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and disadvantaged white and Asian-American applicants. Despite Harvard and UNC’s arguments in favor of maintaining their policies to ensure a diverse student body, the court ruled that these practices were unconstitutional and did not comply with the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee of equal rights “without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality”.
The court further argued that universities’ practices did not provide a sufficient justification for using race in admissions. It claimed that basing admissions on race required stereotyping and resulted in the “offensive and demeaning assumption” that students of a particular race think alike because of their race. However, the court did mention that admissions could still consider how race affected an applicant’s life, provided that the discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the applicant can contribute to the university.
Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, emphasized that students should be treated based on their individual experiences and not their race. On the other hand, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting alongside Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, criticized the ruling for undermining progress and establishing a superficial rule of colorblindness in a society where race continues to matter.
In response to the ruling, Harvard reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining a diverse community and stated that it would comply with the court’s decision. Interestingly, the court’s decision does not apply to military academies, as they were not parties in the case and have potentially distinct interests.
The implications of this decision are significant. Universities have warned that the removal of affirmative action could greatly reduce the diversity of their student bodies. For example, Harvard argued that removing race from its admissions process could reduce the enrollment of Black students from 14% to 6% and Hispanic enrollment from 14% to 9%. This could also result in a 14% drop in students studying the humanities. Furthermore, previous efforts in states where affirmative action had already been eliminated were not able to fully make up for the absence of race consideration in admissions. It remains uncertain how universities will maintain diverse enrollment following this ruling.