As she watched her conservative majority colleagues on the high court issue the death knell to affirmative action on Thursday, June 29, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote another masterpiece to express her dissent.
Jackson’s disapproval could easily be summed up in a single and precise sentence: “Our country has never been colorblind.”
“The best that can be said of the majority’s perspective is that it proceeds (ostrich-like) from the hope that preventing consideration of race will end racism,” Jackson wrote in blasting the six-member majority.
“But if that is its motivation, the majority proceeds in vain. If the colleges of this country are required to ignore a thing that matters, it will not just go away. It will take longer for racism to leave us.”
In the majority ruling, the conservative justices declared that the admissions policies of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, which consider race a factor, were unconstitutional.
Students for Fair Admissions had presented two cases for consideration against Harvard and UNC, representing private and public universities.
They argued that the practice violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and put white and Asian-American applicants at a disadvantage.
Harvard and UNC maintained that affirmative action should be upheld, contending that their admissions policies align with previous court decisions.
They argued that considering race ensures a diverse student body. They denied any discrimination in their practices.
However, the Court ruled that affirmative action violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The justices stated that the universities’ policies do not conform to the limited exceptions for equal rights without regard to race, color, or nationality. The justices determined that the universities failed to provide sufficient justification for using race in admissions.
Further, they claimed that affirmative action programs do not comply with the Equal Protection Clause’s requirement that race not be used negatively or as a stereotype.
The Court noted that affirmative action resulted in a lower acceptance rate for Asian American applicants at Harvard.
The Court further stated that basing admissions on race leads to stereotyping and assumes that individuals of a particular race think alike, which it said it found offensive and demeaning.
“But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”
The justices did acknowledge that race can still be considered if it is directly tied to an applicant’s character or unique abilities that they can contribute to the university.
Chief Justice John Roberts, in the majority opinion, emphasized that students should be evaluated based on their experiences rather than their race.
He criticized universities that he said had wrongly prioritized skin color, stating that America’s constitutional history does not support such a choice.
Jackson lambasted that opinion.
“With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces, ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat,” Jackson forcefully dissented.
“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,” Jackson asserted.
“No one benefits from ignorance. Race matters in the lived experience of Americans, even if legal barriers are gone.”
Casting aside decades of precedent, the Court’s “anti-opportunity majority further undermines its own legitimacy by gutting race-conscious university admissions, which will benefit the wealthy and well-connected most,” the Chairs of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nevada), and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) offered in a joint statement.
“We know that not all students are afforded equal opportunity in our education systems, and we know that diversity on college campuses benefits the entire student body by enriching their college experiences and better preparing them to enter our workforce,” the statement continued.
“Holistic, race-conscious admissions policies allow all students, regardless of their race or ethnicity, to be able to tell the full story of who they are and participate in a thriving, multiracial democracy. Importantly, though, this decision should not be viewed to impact race-conscious processes outside the scope of university admissions.”
President Biden, former President Barack Obama, and a host of civil rights activists also condemned the Court’s decision. Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump said the ruling “reeks of the intellectual justification of discrimination.”
“As we have recently witnessed in politics, this is a coordinated effort to undo much of the progress made to turn America into a land of equal opportunity,” Crump stated.
“The truth is, Black Americans do not have equal opportunity because our starting line is miles behind that of our White peers. It’s obvious that social inequities and systematic discrimination create a more difficult and treacherous path for Black and Brown people to achieve stability and success, blocking their ability to accumulate generational wealth and get their families to a place of financial security. Affirmative action opened doors for bright, young people that were closed to them for generations.”
Stacy M. Brown is the NNPA Newswire senior national correspondent.