Today, my heart shatters for every young individual grappling with uncertainty about their future,” expressed Michelle Obama in response to the contentious verdict.
This week, the American education system faced severe setbacks due to the Supreme Court’s actions. Firstly, on June 29, the Court invalidated affirmative action programs at both the University of North Carolina and Harvard College. Just a day later, they blocked President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, which aimed to provide up to $20,000 in debt relief to millions of Americans. These decisions are widely regarded as significant triumphs for the conservative faction.
To understand the rulings against affirmative action, here is a comprehensive overview:
What exactly is affirmative action?
Affirmative action refers to programs and policies designed to promote inclusivity among underrepresented groups based on factors such as race, gender, sexuality, and more. Typically, educational institutions and employers employ affirmative action programs to foster diversity in learning and work environments.
In 2003, the Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger established a long-standing precedent by affirming that the University of Michigan Law School could prioritize “underrepresented minority groups” without violating the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, as long as other factors were also considered.
However, despite this precedent, NBC News reports that Black and Latino students remain underrepresented in selective and highly selective colleges and universities, where acceptance rates are below 50% and 20%, respectively. These demographics also face underrepresentation in many flagship universities across multiple states.
What was the 2023 ruling on affirmative action?
The ruling, available for reading here, effectively deemed affirmative action in college admissions unconstitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his extensive 40-page opinion, asserted that these programs lack specific, measurable objectives that justify the use of race. Furthermore, he argued that they inadvertently perpetuate negative racial stereotypes and lack meaningful endpoints.
While Roberts did state that universities could consider an applicant’s personal account of how race influenced their life, Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, effectively declared that the ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger had been practically overruled.
What were the dissenting opinions?
The ruling against North Carolina received a 6-3 vote, with dissenting opinions from Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Elana Kagan. On the other hand, the ruling against Harvard passed with a 6-2 vote, with Justice Jackson recusing herself due to her position on the Harvard advisory board.
Justice Jackson, the first Black woman on the Court, described the decision as a tragedy for all. Justice Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, argued that this ruling would solidify a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in a society plagued by endemic segregation, where race has always been and continues to be significant.
What were the reactions?
President Biden vehemently expressed his disagreement with the decision during a speech at the White House on June 29. He firmly believes that colleges thrive when they embrace racial diversity, stating, “Our nation’s strength stems from tapping into the full range of talent available.”
Vice President Kamala Harris characterized the ruling as a step backward for the nation, asserting that it would hinder students from underrepresented backgrounds in accessing opportunities that help them reach their full potential. She emphasized that diminished diversity in schools would negatively impact the educational experience for all students.
Today’s Supreme Court decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina is a step backward for our nation.
Read my full statement. pic.twitter.com/pIBCmVMr6d
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) June 29, 2023
Michelle Obama, in a poignant statement, reflected on her own experience as one of the few Black students on her campus, stating, “Today, my heart breaks for any young person out there who’s wondering what their future holds and what chances will be open to them.” For her full post, please refer to the link provided.
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Former President Barack Obama retweeted his wife’s statement and added his own brief response, remarking, “Affirmative action was never a complete solution in the quest for a more equitable society. However, for generations of students systematically excluded from America’s pivotal institutions, it provided an opportunity to prove that we more than deserved a seat at the table.”
I wanted to share some of my thoughts on today's Supreme Court decision on affirmative action: pic.twitter.com/Wa6TGafzHV
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) June 29, 2023
In another statement, he expressed, “Like any policy, affirmative action wasn’t flawless. Yet, it allowed students like Michelle and me to demonstrate our worthiness. Now, it falls upon all of us to grant young people the opportunities they deserve and enable students everywhere to benefit from fresh perspectives.”
As anticipated, Donald Trump hailed this as “a great day for America,” while Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis lauded the decision on Twitter.
College admissions should be based on merit and applicants should not be judged on their race or ethnicity.
The Supreme Court has correctly upheld the Constitution and ended discrimination by colleges and universities.
— Ron DeSantis (@RonDeSantis) June 29, 2023
Conversely, numerous Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders, criticized the ruling on Twitter.
As Justice Brown Jackson wrote in her dissent today, “deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.” Institutional racism exists. It must be combatted. I urge colleges and universities to remain committed to recruiting and enrolling students of color.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 29, 2023
They want to whitewash our nation's history.
They want to bring America back to the era of book bans and segregated campuses.
We cannot let them. https://t.co/CbVUPf97nd
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) June 29, 2023
An extremist Supreme Court has once again reversed decades of settled law, rolled back the march toward racial justice, and narrowed educational opportunity for all. I won't stop fighting for young people with big dreams who deserve an equal chance to pursue their future.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 29, 2023
The Court’s misguided decision reminds us how far we still have to go to ensure that all Americans are treated equally.
Nevertheless, we will not be daunted or deterred by this decision and we reaffirm our commitment to fighting for equal educational opportunities for all. pic.twitter.com/3OACycH2gR
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) June 29, 2023
In Minnesota we know that diversity in our schools and businesses reflects a strong and diverse state.
One thing is very clear: Minnesota is strong – and we’ll continue working to ensure that everyone has a fair shot to succeed here. https://t.co/sANsbESyVq
— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) June 29, 2023
If SCOTUS was serious about their ludicrous “colorblindness” claims, they would have abolished legacy admissions, aka affirmative action for the privileged.
70% of Harvard’s legacy applicants are white. SCOTUS didn’t touch that – which would have impacted them and their patrons.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 29, 2023
Please note that this post may be updated to reflect any developments.”