haldar22_Kent Nishimura  Los Angeles Times via Getty Images_affirmativeactionprotest Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Supreme Court Kicks Away the Ladder

The US Supreme Court's decision to ban affirmative action in university admissions strikes at the heart of the American dream: the promise of substantive equality of opportunity. The “colorblind” law that the majority's decision idealizes can work only in societies with no racial discrimination, not in settings where it is rampant.

CAMBRIDGE – Fifteen years ago, I watched in rapt attention as a resplendent, yet surreal, scene unfolded: the election of the first-ever African-American US president, Barack Obama. In the past week, the Supreme Court, in a landmark 6-3 ruling, struck down what may have been one of the key factors in making that story possible: affirmative action in higher education. 

In an opinion drafted by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Court rejected race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard (Obama’s law school alma mater) and the University of North Carolina on the grounds that they “cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment. The dissenting opinion was, fittingly, delivered by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, and the first Supreme Court justice of Latin American origin. Sotomayor lamented that the decision “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.”

Judging by the experience of even liberal states like Michigan and California (two of nine to already have rejected affirmative action), the Court’s decision is likely to lead to a sharp drop in the number of Black and Latino students at the undergraduate level, as well as at professional schools. It also opens policies like corporate diversity programs, which ramped up after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, to judicial scrutiny.

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