‘With Let-Them-Eat-Cake Obliviousness,’ Supreme Court Ends Affirmative Action for Colleges - Common Dreams

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled in a pair of cases that affirmative action admissions programs at two universities are unconstitutional, a decision excoriated in dissents by liberal justices including Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote that the court’s right-wing supermajority is “entrenching inequality in education.”

The justices ruled that racially conscious admissions programs at the University of North Carolina and Harvard University violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. The vote was 6-3 in Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (UNC) and 6-2 in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, from which Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself because she once served on one of Harvard’s governing boards.

“The Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause. 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 endpoints,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s right-wing supermajority in the Harvard ruling. “We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today.”

“At the same time, as all parties agree, nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise,” Roberts added.

In her dissent in the North Carolina case, Jackson wrote: “Gulf-sized race-based gaps exist with respect to the health, wealth, and well-being of American citizens. They were created in the distant past, but have indisputably been passed down to the present day through the generations.”

“Every moment these gaps persist is a moment in which this great country falls short of actualizing one of its foundational principles—the ‘self-evident’ truth that all of us are created equal,” she continued. “With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”

“And having so detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences, the court has now been lured into interfering with the crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America’s real-world problems,” Jackson added.

Dissenting in the Harvard case, Sotomayor wrote that “the court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society.”

In a statement issued minutes after the rulings, NAACP president Derrick Johnson said that “in a society still scarred by the wounds of racial disparities, the Supreme Court has displayed a willful ignorance of our reality.”

Traci Griffith, Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Racial Justice Program, asserted that “the movement against affirmative action is part of a larger effort to rewrite our nation’s history, erase the lived experiences of people of color, and obstruct our full and equal participation in our democracy.”

National Education Association president Becky Pringle acknowledged that “racism and discrimination are not just artifacts of American history but continue to persist in our society, including our schools, colleges, and universities. Affirmative action and programs like it expand higher education opportunities to those who have been historically denied a fair shot.”

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Common Dreams

Locations: North Carolina 

Organizations: Supreme Court University of North Carolina Harvard University NAACP ACLU National Education Association 

People: Ketanji Brown Jackson Sonia Sotomayor John Roberts Derrick Johnson Traci Griffith Becky Pringle 

Tags: Equal Protection Clause Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College Lawsuit Affirmative Action 

Type: Headlines