Affirmative Action Effectively Ends After Supreme Court Decision

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe Wade last year, it set off a sense of fear for what the future held in the US and the direction the country was headed in

affirmative action

Photo: Unsplash/ Leon Wu

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, it set off a sense of fear for what the future held in the U.S. and the direction the country was headed in.  Now it’s clear those concerns were warranted after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, effectively ending the programs that have allowed BIPOC students to get equal footing when being considered by college admissions boards. The Court’s six-justice conservative supermajority made the decision last Thursday, ending the ability of all colleges and universities to consider race as one of many factors in deciding admission criteria. 

In the case against affirmative action programs at the University of North Carolina & Harvard, the court ruled that both programs are unlawful and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution with a 6-3 vote and 6-2 vote respectively. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decisions for the court majority, which consisted of Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett, & Brett Kavanaugh, stating that colleges & universities must use colorblind criteria when considering students’ admissions. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented along with Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson and Elena Kagan, wrote in her dissent statement:

“Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress. The Court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society,” Sotomayor stated. “At its core, today’s decision exacerbates segregation and diminishes the inclusivity of our Nation’s institutions in service of superficial neutrality that promotes indifference to inequality and ignores the reality of race. Today, this Court overrules decades of precedent and imposes a superficial rule of race blindness on the Nation.”


The ruling has been swiftly met with criticism across the nation, including from President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Former First Lady Michelle Obama, & New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Several elite colleges and universities have voiced their commitment to continuing to have diverse student body despite the decision yet there’s no way to ensure that will actually happen. “Harvard will continue to be a vibrant community whose members come from all walks of life, all over the world,” school President Lawrence Bacow said in a statement.

“So often, we just accept that money, power, and privilege are perfectly justifiable forms of affirmative action, while kids growing up like I did are expected to compete when the ground is anything but level,” Michelle Obama wrote in her statement. “So today, 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.”

AOC tweeted following the decision, saying legacy admission should be abolished:

“If SCOTUS was serious about their ludicrous ‘colorblindness’ claims, they would have abolished legacy admissions, aka affirmative action for the privileged. 70% of Harvard’s legacy applicants are white. SCOTUS didn’t touch that – which would have impacted them and their patrons.”

Many college admissions administrators believe that the ruling will ensure a significant drop in the number of BIPOC students on campuses across the country. According to NYU law professor Melissa Murray, who was acting dean at University of California Berkeley from 2016-2017 during the time that a state referendum barred the consideration of race in college admissions, she saw a severe drop in marginalized students’ admissions, especially Black students. 

“There was an immediate drop off in the number of African American students that was both a confluence of the change in the admissions policy, but also African American students not wanting to go [to Berkeley] under those conditions,” she told NPR. “People don’t want to be spotlighted. There is a kind of comfort in numbers, and it was very difficult for a very long time to recruit under those conditions.”

Amid the social media backlash, many have pointed out that despite ruling against affirmative action, Associate Justice Thomas has actually benefited from it. According to PBS, he was accepted to Yale Law School in 1971 as part of the school’s goal for students of color to make up 10 percent of the incoming class. 

The decision is just one of many disappointing Supreme Court decisions as of late, as they also ruled against the Biden administration’s plans to wipe out more than $400 billion in student debt and ruled in favor of a Colorado web designer’s right to refuse service to same-sex couples despite a state law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and the fact that the situation is theoretical. As the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority begins wielding its power as it sees fit, many fear what’s to come in terms of landmark cases with decades-long precedents being overturned.

“With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life,” Justice Jackson wrote in her dissent.

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