The US Supreme Court has limited colleges’ authority to take race into account when admitting students, which could have significant repercussions for diversity programs at businesses throughout the nation.
Affirmative action in the US has been dealt a setback by the Supreme Court’s rulings in two of the most prominent cases heard this term. A non-profit organization called Students for Fair Admissions filed lawsuits against Harvard University, a private Ivy League school, and the public University of North Carolina to outlaw racial preferences in admissions.
Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the colour of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”
Justice Clarence Thomas — the nation’s second Black justice, who had long called for an end to affirmative action — wrote separately that the decision “sees the universities’ admissions policies for what they are: rudderless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a particular racial mix in their entering classes.”
The groups that were most discriminated against by affirmative action were Indians and Asians. ‘Many Indian Americans’ were also part of the anti-affirmation group SFFA which had filed a lawsuit against Harvard in SCOTUS.
The decision is a strong affirmation of colourblindness that might change how public policy is made and opens up a new legal avenue for those who oppose the use of race in business, government, and educuation.
The business community had been keenly following the cases because it is concerned that it may be the next subject of similar issues. Numerous big firms, including American Airlines, General Electric, Meta, Google, and Apple, signed a brief in favour of the institutions, claiming that forbidding universities from taking race into account when selecting students “would undermine businesses’ efforts to build diverse workforces”.
Due to the court’s ruling against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, schools and universities, especially those that are selective, will be less able to use a candidate’s race as a deciding factor when considering their admissions. There will be a drop in the number of Black, Latino, and Indigenous students accepted to highly prestigious universities as a result of the elimination of race-conscious admissions, which impacts around a quarter of US schools and universities. This might result in a cascade rerouting of those students to other, less selective colleges, which would reduce the diversity of the top schools.
In a concurring opinion, Clarence Thomas, who has argued that Grutter should be overruled, described affirmative action as a form of “discrimination based on race”.
“It appears increasingly in vogue to embrace an ‘anti subordination’ view of the Fourteenth Amendment: that the amendment forbids only laws that hurt, but not help, blacks,” added Thomas, who is black.