Supreme Court Bans Race-Conscious Admissions

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The U.S. Supreme Court has banned the use of race-conscious admissions practices by colleges and universities in a 6-2 and 6-3 decision on two respective lawsuits involving Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

The cases, which continue a long saga of lawsuits against the practice of affirmative action, were filed by the conservative advocacy group Students for Fair Admission (SFFA), which argued that the practice discriminates against White and Asian students.

In the majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court stated that educational institutions across the country should use impartial standards in their admissions process without considering race.

“The Court has permitted race-based college admissions only within the confines of narrow restrictions: such admissions programs must comply with strict scrutiny, may never use race as a stereotype or negative, and must—at some point—end,” the opinion reads. “Respondents’ admissions systems fail each of these criteria and must therefore be invalidated under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

During oral arguments in November, the court’s three liberal justices — Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor — appeared to defend race-conscious admissions and pointed out flaws in SFFA’s arguments, noting that race and ethnicity are only two of many factors that are considered in the enrollment process.

Proponents of race-conscious admissions assert that banning the practice will have adverse outcomes on the overall diversity of many college campuses, citing decreased enrollment rates of racially underrepresented students in states that have banned affirmative action.

Throughout the proceedings, advocacy groups such as the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity (AAAED) and the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education called on the court to uphold affirmative action to ensure a diverse workforce and educational environment. Experts in these organizations and within the larger legal and higher education communities argue that a reversal will undo decades of work to improve equity in education, leading to fewer economic opportunities for already marginalized communities.