SCOTUS Deals Fatal Blow to Affirmative Action in Higher Education

In what Ed Whelan dubbed "The Chief Justice's Greatest Opinion," the Supreme Court has dealt a fatal blow to affirmative action in higher education:

The Supreme Court today issued its long-awaited decision on whether the admissions systems used by Harvard College and by the University of North Carolina unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race. In a combined ruling in the two cases, a six-justice majority ruled that the admissions systems violate Equal Protection standards—standards that apply directly to UNC as a state institution under the Equal Protection Clause and that apply to Harvard, as a recipient of federal funding, via Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. . .

The colorblindness principle set forth in today’s ruling applies not only to admissions programs but to everything that a state university or a private university subject to Title VI does. So universities will need to dramatically reform their DEI bureaucracies—or, better yet, abolish them.

Charles C.W. Cooke notes that the decision is "A Victory for Clarence Thomas," who has advocated against affirmative action for decades and took the opportunity to write a concurring opinion laying out his thoughts on the matter:

Some people, Thomas notes, seem to believe that affirmative action is substantially different from earlier forms of injustice, because, in practice, the “[14th] Amendment forbids only laws that hurt, but not help, blacks.” But, he avers, “such a theory lacks any basis in the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment,” which declared that “the color of a person’s skin is irrelevant to that individual’s equal status as a citizen of this Nation” and that “to treat him differently on the basis of such a legally irrelevant trait is therefore a deviation from the equality principle and a constitutional injury.” If we are to stay faithful to the law, Thomas submits, “we cannot be guided by those who would desire less in our Constitution, or by those who would desire more.” That those who would opt out are elite colleges instead of segregationists is irrelevant. “Universities’ self-proclaimed righteousness does not afford them license to discriminate on the basis of race,” he affirms. “In fact, it is error for a court to defer to the views of an alleged discriminator while assessing claims of racial discrimination.”

You can read the Justices' opinions here.

Conservatives praised the Court's decision to strike down policies that have amounted to racial discrimination in the name of equity.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell wrote:

The Supreme Court’s decisions on college admissions are a long-overdue step toward ensuring equal protection under the law. For decades, the Court turned a blind eye as higher education prioritized illegal social engineering over merit. Today’s rulings make clear that colleges may not continue discriminating against bright and ambitious students based on the color of their skin.

Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino argued that the Court's decision "moves us closer toward achieving true racial equality guaranteed under the Constitution."

Democrats are already pushing back against the Court's ruling, but the reality is that most Americans agree with the outcome of these cases.

Join RNLA on Friday, July 7, at 2:00 p.m. for our annual Supreme Court review. Professor Josh Blackman and The Heritage Foundation's John Malcolm will discuss the Court's most important rulings of the 2022-2023 term. Register here today!