Supreme Court Rules Against Affirmative Action in College Admissions, Banning the Use of Race

by Madison Thomas
affirmative action

In a divided decision, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday to strike down affirmative action in college admissions, stating that race cannot be considered as a factor. This decision forces higher education institutions to explore alternative methods of achieving diverse student bodies.

The court’s conservative majority effectively overturned decades of cases by invalidating admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the oldest private and public colleges in the country, respectively.

Similar to last year’s landmark abortion ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, this decision represents a long-standing conservative legal objective. It declares that race-conscious admissions plans violate the Constitution and the law applicable to recipients of federal funding, which encompasses the vast majority of colleges and universities.

Consequently, these institutions will have to reevaluate their admissions practices, especially prestigious schools that have traditionally taken race into consideration when evaluating applicants.

Chief Justice John Roberts criticized universities for erroneously concluding that an individual’s identity is determined by the color of their skin rather than the challenges they have overcome, skills they have developed, or lessons they have learned. He emphasized that our constitutional history does not tolerate such an approach.

President Joe Biden, from the White House, expressed strong disagreement with the court’s ruling and urged colleges to find alternative pathways to diversity, rather than accepting the ruling as the final verdict.

Aside from the ideological divide between conservatives and liberals, the debate over affirmative action highlighted the profound differences among the three justices of color, each of whom wrote separate opinions that vividly addressed the issue of race in America and the potential consequences of the decision.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the nation’s second Black justice, who has long called for an end to affirmative action, argued that the decision recognizes the universities’ admissions policies as arbitrary, race-based preferences designed to achieve a particular racial mix in their incoming classes.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the court, dissented, stating that the decision rolls back decades of precedent and significant progress.

Both Thomas and Sotomayor, who acknowledge that affirmative action played a role in their own college and law school admissions, took the unusual step of reading summaries of their opinions aloud in the courtroom.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the court’s first Black female justice, also dissented, describing the decision as a tragedy for everyone. Jackson, who recused herself from the Harvard case due to her previous involvement, argued that declaring race irrelevant in law does not make it so in real life.

The vote was 6-3 in the North Carolina case and 6-2 in the Harvard case, with Justice Elena Kagan as the other dissenter.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will compel universities nationwide to revise their admissions practices, particularly at top-tier institutions that have traditionally considered the race of applicants.

Many college presidents swiftly issued statements reaffirming their commitment to diversity regardless of the court’s decision, with several indicating that they are still assessing the impact but will adhere to federal law.

President Reginald DesRoches of Rice University expressed profound disappointment with the ruling but asserted a greater resolve to pursue diversity, emphasizing that Rice’s commitment to diversity remains unwavering.

Former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama offered divergent perspectives on the high court’s ruling. Trump, the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, hailed the decision as a great day for America, asserting that individuals with extraordinary ability and other qualifications essential for success, including the future greatness of the country, are finally being rewarded. In contrast, Obama stated that affirmative action provided opportunities for students like him and his wife Michelle to prove their belongingness, and now it is up to all of us to ensure that young people receive the opportunities they deserve and benefit from diverse perspectives.

The Supreme Court had previously upheld race-conscious college admissions programs twice in the past 20 years, including as recently as 2016. However, with the addition of three conservative justices appointed by Trump, doubts were cast on the practice during the arguments in late October. These doubts led to the current decision, overturning previous Supreme Court rulings dating back to 1978.

Lower courts had also upheld the admissions programs at both UNC and Harvard, rejecting claims that these schools discriminated against white and Asian American applicants.

The college admissions disputes were among several high-profile cases centered around race in America and were deliberated upon by the most diverse Supreme Court, which is dominated by conservatives. Among the nine justices, four are women, two are Black, and one is Latina.

The cases challenging affirmative action were initiated by conservative activist Edward Blum, who was also involved in previous challenges against the University of Texas and the case that led to the court’s 2013 decision to invalidate a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act. Blum formed Students for Fair Admissions, which filed lawsuits against both schools in 2014. The group argued that the Constitution prohibits the use of race in college admissions and sought to overturn previous Supreme Court decisions that had permitted it.

Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion effectively achieved that goal, as emphasized by both Justice Thomas and the dissenting justices.

The ruling explicitly excluded the nation’s military academies from its scope, with Chief Justice Roberts suggesting that national security interests could impact the legal analysis.

Blum’s group contended that colleges and universities could assemble a diverse student body using race-neutral methods, such as focusing on socioeconomic status and eliminating preferences for children of alumni and major donors.

The schools countered by stating that while they use race as a limited factor, removing it entirely would significantly impede their ability to create student bodies that reflect the diversity of America.

Federal data indicates that nonwhite student enrollment at the eight Ivy League universities increased from 27% in 2010 to 35% in 2021. These students include individuals of Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, and biracial backgrounds.

Nine states already prohibit the consideration of race in admissions to their public colleges and universities. The cessation of affirmative action in higher education in states such as California, Michigan, Washington, and others resulted in a substantial decline in minority enrollment at the leading public universities in those states.

The other states with similar policies are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma.

In 2020, California voters rejected a ballot measure that aimed to reinstate affirmative action.

A recent poll conducted by The Big Big News-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research indicated that 63% of U.S. adults believe colleges should be allowed to consider race as part of the admissions process. However, only a small number of respondents believed that a student’s race should play a significant role in admissions decisions. A separate survey by the Pew Research Center revealed that half of Americans disapprove of considering applicants’ race, while a third approve.

Notably, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Jackson obtained their undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Elena Kagan attended Harvard Law School, with Kagan being the institution’s first female dean.

Except for Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s undergraduate alma mater, Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, all the U.S. colleges and universities attended by the justices supported the preservation of race-conscious admissions. Schools like Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Notre Dame, and Holy Cross joined amicus briefs in defense of Harvard’s and UNC’s admissions plans.

This report was contributed to by Collin Binkley, a writer from Big Big News.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about affirmative action

What is the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action in college admissions?

The Supreme Court ruled to strike down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring that race cannot be considered as a factor. This decision forces institutions of higher education to explore alternative methods of achieving diverse student bodies.

How does the ruling impact colleges and universities?

The ruling requires colleges and universities to reshape their admissions practices, especially prestigious schools that have traditionally taken race into consideration when evaluating applicants. They will need to find new ways to achieve diversity without considering race.

What was the rationale behind the Supreme Court’s decision?

The court’s conservative majority argued that race-conscious admissions plans violate the Constitution and a law that applies to recipients of federal funding. They emphasized that an individual’s identity should be based on challenges overcome, skills built, and lessons learned, rather than the color of their skin.

How did the justices of color react to the decision?

Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, who have acknowledged affirmative action’s role in their own admissions, expressed opposing viewpoints. Thomas supported the decision, stating that admissions policies were based on race-based preferences, while Sotomayor dissented, considering it a setback to progress.

What are the implications for diversity in higher education?

The ruling raises concerns about maintaining diversity in higher education. Colleges and universities will need to find alternative pathways to diversity, focusing on factors like socioeconomic status rather than race to create student bodies that reflect the diversity of America.

How will the ruling impact previous admissions practices?

Admissions practices that previously considered race as a factor will need to be revised or eliminated. The ruling invalidates admissions plans at institutions like Harvard and the University of North Carolina, leading to a need for significant changes in how schools evaluate and select applicants.

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Jane123 June 29, 2023 - 11:58 pm

wow!! the supreme court said no to affirmative action!! can u believe it? it’s gonna change things in colleges, gotta find new ways to be diverse, but will they work?

FreeSpeechAdvocate June 30, 2023 - 6:49 am

the ruling is a win for equality and meritocracy. race should not be a factor in college admissions. it’s time to focus on individual achievements and qualifications, regardless of skin color.

NatureExplorer June 30, 2023 - 11:03 am

it’s a shame that the court ruled against affirmative action. diversity is essential in educational settings, and race can be a valid factor to consider. hope colleges find effective alternatives to ensure inclusive campuses.

ArtisticSoul June 30, 2023 - 11:35 am

disappointed with the court’s decision. affirmative action was a step towards addressing historical inequalities. now we have to find new ways to ensure equal opportunities for everyone.

Bookworm88 June 30, 2023 - 11:45 am

so sad to see the court strike down affirmative action. it was a way to level the playing field and give opportunities to underrepresented groups. now colleges will have to find other ways to create diversity. hope they can still achieve it!

SoccerFan22 June 30, 2023 - 12:23 pm

this decision will have a big impact on college admissions. it’s gonna be tough for schools to figure out how to be diverse without considering race. wonder what other factors they’ll look at now.

TechGeek99 June 30, 2023 - 12:53 pm

colleges will have to adapt their admissions practices after the ruling. it will be interesting to see how they prioritize other factors like socioeconomic status to create diverse student bodies.

MusicLover123 June 30, 2023 - 2:39 pm

this decision could have a lasting impact on minority enrollment in colleges. without affirmative action, will we see a decline in representation? it’s a concern that needs to be addressed.

Luv2Learn June 30, 2023 - 3:36 pm

interesting to see the divide among the justices of color. some agree with the decision, others strongly disagree. it’s a complex issue, and it’s clear that race still plays a significant role in our society.

JohnDoe456 June 30, 2023 - 6:54 pm

finally!!! affirmative action was unfair, glad they outlawed it. why should race matter when it comes to admissions? skills and hard work should be the only things that count!


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