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Trump-packed Supreme Court overturns affirmative action programs at Harvard, UNC

Chris Graham
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The Trump-packed U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to gut affirmative action in higher education in a decision handed down on Thursday.

The ruling, which had been expected, specifically addresses race-conscious student admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, which Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, “violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

“The Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the equal protection clause,” Roberts opined. “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 end points.”

The ruling, though technically limited to the programs at Harvard and UNC, is expected to have implications far and wide in education and in hiring decisions made by employers, who may dial back considerations of race in assessing the qualifications of job candidates.

It’s almost certain that the ruling will render the student populations at elite schools like the Harvards, UNCs and, we could expect, the UVAs of the world significantly whiter and more Asian, and less Black and Latino.

“At bottom,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a blistering dissent to today’s majority opinion, “the six unelected members of today’s majority upend the status quo based on their policy preferences about what race in America should be like, but is not, and their preferences for a veneer of colorblindness in a society where race has always mattered and continues to matter in fact and in law.”

President Biden, addressing the issue in front of cameras at the White House on Thursday, said the Supreme Court ruling marks the rollback of “decades of precedent and momentous progress.”

“I also believe that while talent, creativity, and hard work are everywhere across this country, not equal opportunity, it is not everywhere across this country,” Biden said. “We cannot let this decision be the last word. While the court can render a decision, it cannot change what America stands for.”

Spoiler alert: that’s precisely what happened today.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion that he termed “an originalist defense of the colorblind Constitution,” attempted to “clarify that all forms of discrimination based on race – including so-called affirmative action – are prohibited under the Constitution; and to emphasize the pernicious effects of all such discrimination.”

“Individuals are the sum of their unique experiences, challenges, and accomplishments. What matters is not the barriers they face, but how they choose to confront them. And their race is not to blame for everything – good or bad – that happens in their lives,” Thomas wrote.

Easy for a guy who benefitted from affirmative action when he was applying to Yale to say, right?

That’s a shoot.

Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson, the lone Biden appointee on the high court, had strong words for the majority opinion, writing in her dissent that “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,” Brown-Jackson wrote.

“History speaks. In some form, it can be heard forever,” Brown-Jackson wrote. “The race-based gaps that first developed centuries ago are echoes from the past that still exist today. By all accounts, they are still stark.”

Former President Barack Obama, who before entering politics was a constitutional law professor, weighed in on the ruling, conceding that while “affirmative action was never a complete answer in the drive towards a more just society,” it was important “for generations of students who had been systematically excluded from most of America’s key institutions.”

“It gave us the chance to show we more than deserved a seat at the table. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision, it’s time to redouble our efforts,” Obama said.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].