During the summer, the Supreme Court ruled the use of Affirmative Action in college admission policies unconstitutional, undoing the precedents set by Affirmative Action cases that date back nearly 50 years.
The decision was the result of the case “Students for Free Admissions v. Harvard” in which a nonprofit legal advocacy group of the same name challenged Harvard’s Affirmative Action-based admissions program on the basis that it discriminates against Asian-Americans.
In addition, the Supreme Court also took into consideration a similar case brought against the University of North Carolina and its own Affirmative Action program by the same group that had previously been ruled in the school’s favor.
Despite this, Students for Free Admissions would ultimately succeed in their mission to bring down Affirmative Action as Supreme Court Justices voted in the group’s favor 6-3, officially declaring the programs of both schools unlawful.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that “both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping and lack meaningful end points.”
It is worth noting, however, that although the Supreme Court disallowed using racial backgrounds for admissions, its ruling did allow for schools to consider “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”
Unfortunately, this only perpetuates a sense of confusion in terms of how race should now function in college admissions, as the specifics of how this process should work in reality were not clearly defined in the ruling.
Further complicating the matter is the Supreme Court’s stipulation that colleges are only allowed to consider applicants’ experiences regarding race if said information is “concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university.”
As such, it may become an issue of trial-and-error where schools are forced to spend resources trying to toe the line of what is or is not constitutional in their admission processes.
College leaders nationwide have remained steadfast in their continued dedication to diversity in education in light of the ruling, though many have expressed concerns in regard to what impacts the court’s decision may have on education as a whole.
This is not the first legal challenge faced by Affirmative Action, as while the program’s constitutionality had been upheld for decades prior, several states had previously banned such programs, the earliest being California in 1996 and the latest being Idaho in 2020.
This has, historically, led to a drop in minority representation within college admissions, as it did for the University of California after the state’s initial ban which resulted in the school’s enrollment of African American students dropping by half in only two years.
In contrast, schools that maintained Affirmative Action programs experienced the opposite effect in the same time period, with nearly 40% of Yale’s 1993-1994 Freshman class being comprised of students from minority backgrounds.
With these programs no longer being considered lawful, alternative solutions are currently being raised to help prevent a nationwide fall in educational diversity, such as the end of legacy admissions for children or relatives of alumni.
Yet, even with these discussions on alternative solutions taking place and college leaders assuring their mission to preserve diversity in education, there is uncertainty in the air now, and one must question just how far-reaching the effects of the Supreme Court’s ruling will be.