By Mark Sherman, Associated Press
The Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions, forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies on June 29.
The court’s conservative majority overturned admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.
Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”
Justice Clarence Thomas, the nation’s second Black justice who had long called for an end to affirmative action, wrote separately that the decision “sees the universities’ admissions policies for what they are: rudderless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a particular racial mix in their entering classes.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent that the decision “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.”
Both Thomas and Sotomayor took the unusual step of reading a summary of their opinions aloud in the courtroom.
In a separate dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson — the court’s first Black female justice — called the decision “truly a tragedy for us all.”
The vote was 6-3 in the North Carolina case and 6-2 in the Harvard case. Jackson sat out the Harvard case because she had been a member of an advisory governing board there.
The Supreme Court had twice upheld race-conscious college admissions programs in the past 20 years, including as recently as 2016.
But that was before the three appointees of former President Donald Trump joined the court. At arguments in late October, all six conservative justices expressed doubts about the practice, which had been upheld under Supreme Court decisions reaching back to 1978.
Lower courts also had upheld the programs at both UNC and Harvard, rejecting claims that the schools discriminated against White and Asian American applicants.
The college admissions disputes are among several high-profile cases focused on race in America, and were weighed by the conservative-dominated, but most diverse court ever. Among the nine justices are four women, two Black people and a Latina.
The justices earlier in June decided a voting rights case in favor of Black voters in Alabama and rejected a race-based challenge to a Native American child protection law.
The affirmative action cases were brought by conservative activist Edward Blum, who also was behind an earlier affirmative action challenge against the University of Texas as well as the case that led the court in 2013 to end use of a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Blum formed Students for Fair Admissions, which filed the lawsuits against both schools in 2014.