Revisiting Affirmative Action: An Analysis of the Supreme Court’s Landmark Decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College
The Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College marks a significant shift in the legal landscape of affirmative action in college admissions. The Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled that the race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were unconstitutional. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., argued that these programs lacked “sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race,” and that they “unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points.”
The decision overturns decades of precedent that allowed for the consideration of race in college admissions as a means of promoting diversity. The Court’s ruling is grounded in the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which prohibits the state from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. The Court found that the admissions programs at Harvard and UNC violated this clause by using race as a factor in their admissions decisions.
Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion, offered an originalist defense of a colorblind Constitution and emphasized the pernicious effects of all forms of racial discrimination, including affirmative action. He criticized Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s dissent and her “race-infused world view,” arguing that individuals should be seen as the sum of their unique experiences, challenges, and accomplishments, rather than being defined by their race.
The decision has sparked a wide range of reactions. Some, like former President Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have praised the ruling, seeing it as a victory for merit-based admissions and a rejection of racial discrimination. Trump called it a “great day for America,” while DeSantis stated that the Supreme Court “correctly upheld the Constitution and ended discrimination by colleges and universities.”
Others, however, have expressed concern about the implications of the decision. The New York Times article by Adam Liptak highlights that the ruling could have far-reaching effects on the racial makeup of elite institutions and could exacerbate existing racial disparities in higher education. Here is link to the article: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/29/us/politics/supreme-court-admissions-affirmative-action-harvard-unc.html
Looking forward, the decision could have significant implications for college admissions. On one hand, it could lead to more merit-based admissions, as colleges and universities will no longer be able to consider race as a factor in their decisions. This could potentially lead to a more level playing field for all applicants, regardless of their race.
On the other hand, the decision could also lead to less racial diversity on college campuses, as affirmative action has historically been used as a tool to increase representation of underrepresented groups in higher education. This could potentially exacerbate racial disparities in access to higher education and have negative effects on the educational experiences of all students, as numerous studies have shown that diversity can enhance learning and foster a more inclusive campus environment.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College marks a significant turning point in the legal landscape of affirmative action in college admissions. While the long-term effects of the decision remain to be seen, it is clear that it will have far-reaching implications for colleges and universities across the country.
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Link to opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/22pdf/20-1199_hgdj.pdf