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Supreme Court kills off Harvard, UNC affirmative action programs

Taking the position that affirmative action equates to racism against white people, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that considering race in collect admissions violates the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, thus ending race-based admissions criteria for higher education.

Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports the court ruled 6-3 that Harvard’s and the University of North Carolina’s inclusion of race as a factor in granting admissions illegally discriminated against white people. By including both schools in the decision, the court addresses the practice in both publicly-funded and private institutions. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the majority opinion, stated the ruling levels the playing field for non-minority applicants: “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.”

Brought by a non-profit founded in 2014 by Edward Blum, an anti-affirmative action activist who is also is also leading a lawsuit challenging affirmative action in the workplace, the case is the culmination of decades of attempts to overturn the policy, hated by conservatives because, they claim, it rewards underachievers.  Universities have argued racial diversity improves the educational experience. 

In his majority opinion, Roberts smarmily stated that the idea of race as a criterion suffered from the categories being “plainly overbroad” with “Asian” being listed but not regionality like “East Asian” or “South Asian” deemed unimportant.  Roberts called the inclusion of a “Hispanic” category “arbitrary or undefined” and said ethnicities like “Middle Eastern” were excluded.  (Hispanic and Middle Eastern are not races.)

The effort to extinguish affirmative action comes from a conservative belief that people are losing jobs and college admissions based solely on checking a box identifying them as white; it doesn’t seek to redress the admitted societal disadvantages non-white students experience, and in fact, the opinion acknowledges minorities’ societal disadvantages.  Roberts writes that while the box indicating race may not be a factor, a student writing an essay about how being a specific race impacted her/his life could be credited to bolster her/his application.

The ruling will have an immediate impact in the way thousands of institutes of higher education process admission applications.  Schools may use an applicant’s race to determine which of a number of similar students get accepted to the university, but as the justices recognize in their opinions, it’s a tie-breaker rather than the sole determining factor.

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