U. S. Supreme Court: Front row, left to right: Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Back row, left to right: Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Associate Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. PHOTO CREDIT: Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States
By: Hamil R. Harris and Barrington M. Salmon
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Defying more than 45 years of legal precedent, the United States Supreme Court – in a widely-expected ruling – declared that colleges and universities can no longer consider race in their student admissions, ending decades of an affirmative action push in higher education.
The court, dominated by far-right conservative Republican judges, voted 6-2, against the admissions program at Harvard University and 6-3 against admissions policies at the University of North Carolina. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, asserted that both institutions violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, thus rendering their programs unlawful.
This is the second time in two years, that the super-majority Republican court has reversed almost 50 years of precedent on an issue that had gone a long way toward leveling the uneven playing field for non-white students in higher education. The ruling – which came after a decades-long effort by Republicans – is out of step with the 63 percent of Americans who in a May AP/NORC poll – support Affirmative Action.
Reaction was swift and fierce, particularly from two liberal justices who rebuked the idea posited by the majority that programs designed to offset racism by increasing racial diversity are themselves racist.
“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,” said Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in a blistering 29-page dissent. “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 …”
Jackson sparred with Justice Clarence Thomas, who during oral arguments said college admissions have become a “zero-sum game” in which Asian students “suffer because of an outdated overcorrection by courts during the civil rights era.”
“This is not 1958 or 1968. Today’s youth do not shoulder moral debts of their ancestors,” added Thomas while criticizing Jackson personally. “As she sees things, we are all inexorably trapped in a fundamentally racist society, with the original sin of slavery and the historical subjugation of Black Americans still determining our lives today,” Thomas wrote.
One section of Jackson’s dissent that caught fire on social media was her savaging of the court majority.
“With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat,” Jackson said. “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.”
Although the toppling of the law was expected, a wide spectrum of observers were left angry, distraught and frustrated.
“My frustration is the feeling of powerlessness and being unable to press a button to make things better. If I could, I would,” said James Haywood Rolling, Jr., chair of Arts Education at Syracuse University since 2007. “This outcome was set up by the fools who couldn’t play chess well enough to not get Donald Trump elected. He had no interest in governing … folks allowed him to get the levers of power. There will be reverberations that will affect people we love and will continue to.”
Michelle Marks-Osbourne, a Christian minister, scholar and an equity expert, echoed Rolling’s displeasure. “I am upset but I expected nothing more from this court. Just to know that this self-loathing man who spoke Gullah Geechee knows he has received so much affirmative action and voted in the manner he did,” she said. “I’m pissed, not pissed. I wrote on Facebook: ‘Dear Black students, HBCUs are waiting …’”
Little will change for African Americans until the composition of the court shifts, Marks-Osbourne said. “It’s not until the (high) court changes that this harm will stop. Alito and Thomas are two oldest on court. It’s a waiting game,” said Marks-Osbourne who grew up in Harlem but now lives in North Carolina. “I am aware that the court struck the law down based on race not gender. If it did, white women would be screaming because they are the beneficiaries of the most affirmative action.”
While encouraging universities to double down on new ways to promote opportunity, Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, lamented the far-reaching impact the court’s decision will have on already disadvantaged prospective students.
“Through a tortured interpretation of the law, history, and current-day reality, today’s decision threatens to make higher education less accessible, less equitable, and less attainable for students of color,” said Hewitt in a statement. “While seemingly leaving existing precedent undisturbed, the majority’s logic will make it more difficult for all students to have a fair shot at getting the quality education they deserve, especially America’s most marginalized students. This Court is clearly on the wrong side of history.”
Republicans like former President Donald Trump, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and former Vice President Mike Pence applauded the ruling.
“I’m grateful to see the conservative majority that we have built on the Supreme Court of the United States bring an end to most of affirmative action. We want to live in a color-blind society,” said Pence, during an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine Thursday. “There may have been a time, 50 years ago, when we needed to affirmatively take steps to correct long-term racial bias in institutions of higher education, but I can tell you that as the father of three college graduates, those days are long over.”
Pence also said he’s grateful too, “that the Supreme Court took us one step back to that America that will judge every man and woman on the content of their character and on their own achievement and leave race out of the consideration of admissions to higher education.”
Affirmative Action supporters chastised the court’s radical right majority and rebuked Republicans’ hypocrisy and dishonesty.
“America doesn’t look like it looks by mistake. Old Miss doesn’t look like the way it does by mistake, Princeton doesn’t look like the way it does my mistake,” said Dr. Eddie Glaude, Chair of the Center for African American Studies and the Chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. “It’s the result of deliberate policy. And if we’re going into a world where we’re not defined by racial inequality then we have to be as deliberate in dismantling it as we were in creating it. Declaring color-blindness is not being deliberate.”
Glaude said America is in the midst of relitigating the 1960s and extremist Republicans in high places are rolling back all the considerable gains of marginalized sections of American society over the past 60 years.
“We’re relitigating the world that was created as a result of the Black freedom struggle, as a result of the women’s movement, as a result of the gay liberation movement and the court is clear where it stands on these issues,” said Glaude, during an MSNBC interview Thursday.
Anika Trahan said she is left infuriated by the ruling.
“I’m not surprised, but still very angry,” said Trahan, an IT Program Manager with a private company based in Silicon Valley. “The leaning of the court is what it is. But, given the information that has been disclosed in recent months about Clarence’s and his wife’s goings-on, makes his concurrence in this that much more bitter a pill to swallow. Additionally, and beyond the nefarious actions of this one justice, the level of willful ignorance of his own ascension via Affirmative Action is so … I can’t even find the words for it.”
Observers fear that eliminating race as a factor in college admissions will inevitably lead to a considerably smaller pool of applicants if the past is any indicator. In the nine states that have barred race in consideration of admissions to their public colleges and universities, there has been a precipitous drop, said Georgetown University Law Professor Paul Butler.
“We’ve already known the dramatic and negative impact this will have from the nine states who outlawed diversity in college admissions,” said Butler during an MSNBC interview. “A brief presented to the court shows that Black student representation will go down to 2 percent. They overturned one of the most successful racial justice policies of all time.”
Butler said America is at risk “of returning to those old days when Blacks, Latinx and Native folks, who built this country, (will be) shut out of the opportunity to learn at some of our countries elite educational institutions.”
President Joe Biden expressed his disappointment while adding his voice to widespread criticism of the ruling. “The Supreme Court is not normal. They have done more to unravel basic rights and basic courts than any time in recent history,” he said. “They are so out of sorts with the basic value system of the majority of the American people. Across the board, the majority of the American people do not agree with the decisions they’re making. Their value system and respect for institutions is different.”
Derrick Johnson, of the NAACP, was more forceful. “Today the Supreme Court has bowed to the personally held beliefs of an extremist minority. We will not allow hate-inspired people in power to turn back the clock and undermine our hard-won victories,” said Johnson, the legacy organization’s President & CEO in a statement. “The tricks of America’s dark past will not be tolerated. Let me be clear – affirmative action exists because we cannot rely on colleges, universities, and employers to enact admissions and hiring practices that embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion …”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor was defiant, warning her colleagues that this issue would not simply disappear, arguing forcefully too that the court is “entrenching racial inequality in education.”
“The majority’s vision of race neutrality will entrench racial segregation in higher education because racial inequality will persist so long as it is ignored,” the court’s only Hispanic member said. “Despite the Court’s unjustified exercise of power, the opinion today will serve only to highlight the Court’s own impotence in the face of an America whose cries for equality resound.”