In a landmark decision June 29, the Supreme Court ruled that race can no longer be used as a factor for college admissions. The decision came after months of debate and is the amalgamation of two cases: Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC. Justices ruled 6-2 in favor of Students for Fair Admissions in the Harvard case, and 6-3 in favor of the organization in the UNC case (Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself from the Harvard ruling.)
Affirmative action, around since the 1960s, was formed as a way to increase diversity in higher education. Supporters praised it for improving black, Latino and Native American enrollment in university; critics, meanwhile, argued it unfairly penalized Asian students due to colleges allegedly requiring Asian students to have better grades and extracurriculars than other races to be admitted.
Although the Court has previously upheld affirmative action, this decision overturned decades of precedent by agreeing with Students for Fair Admissions, a conservative group led by Edward Blum, that affirmative action violates Title VI. According to the BBC, Title VI “bars discrimination based on race, color or national origin.”
The practice of affirmative action, argued Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote the majority opinion, “rests on the pernicious stereotype that a black student can usually bring something that a white person cannot offer.”
Meanwhile, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, one of the dissenters, asserted that “given the lengthy history of state-sponsored race-based preferences in America, to say that anyone is now victimized if a college considers whether that legacy of discrimination has unequally advantaged its applicants fails to acknowledge the well documented ‘intergenerational transmission of inequality.’”
Universities such as the entire University of California system eliminated affirmative action years ago and find difficulty maintaining diverse populations. In a briefing to the Supreme Court, the UC system alleged that “despite its extensive efforts, UC struggles to enroll a student body that is sufficiently racially diverse… African American, Native American and Latinx students are underrepresented and widely report struggling with feelings of racial isolation.”
In an attempt to combat the lack of diversity that may result from ending affirmative action, some lawmakers suggested eliminating legacy admissions that traditionally favor rich, white students. Harvard, with around 30% of its class having ties to a previous alumnus, rejects this suggestion, stating that legacy admissions allow strong bonds between alumni and the institution.
What does this mean for 2024 college admissions and beyond? Common App has already stated they will provide resources for students to speak about their experiences with race. However, Common App now also allows colleges to hide a student’s race when evaluating their application. Whether colleges will follow the same path as the UC system, with lowered diversity in their admitted class, is an answer that will undoubtedly be revealed in the ensuing months.