BY MARK SHERMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — A divided Supreme Court on Thursday struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor and forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.
The court’s conservative majority effectively overturned cases reaching back 45 years in invalidating admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.
Those schools will be forced to reshape their admissions practices, especially top schools that are more likely to consider the race of applicants.
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 color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”
From the White House, President Joe Biden said he “strongly, strongly” disagreed with the court’s ruling and urged colleges to seek other routes to diversity rather than let the ruling “be the last word.”
Justice Clarence Thomas — the nation’s second Black justice, who had long called for an end to affirmative action — wrote 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.”
An applicant for admission still can write about, and colleges can consider, “how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise,” Roberts wrote.
But the institutions “may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today,” he wrote.
The court’s decision will force universities across the nation to reshape their admissions practices, especially at top schools that are more likely to consider the race of applicants.
Presidents of many colleges quickly issued statements affirming their commitment to diversity regardless of the court’s decision. Many said they are still assessing the impact but will follow federal law.
Former Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama offered starkly different takes on the high court ruling. The decision marked “a great day for America. People with extraordinary ability and everything else necessary for success, including future greatness for our Country, are finally being rewarded,” Trump, the current Republican presidential frontrunner, wrote on his social media network.
Obama said in a statement that affirmative action “allowed generations of students like Michelle and me to prove we belonged. Now it’s up to all of us to give young people the opportunities they deserve — and help students everywhere benefit from new perspectives.”
The college admissions disputes were among several high-profile cases focused on race in America, and were weighed by the conservative-dominated, but most diverse court ever. Among the nine justices are four women, two Black people and a Latina.
The justices earlier in June decided a voting rights case in favor of Black voters in Alabama and rejected a race-based challenge to a Native American child protection law.
The affirmative action cases were brought by conservative activist Edward Blum, who also was behind an earlier challenge against the University of Texas as well as the case that led the court in 2013 to end use of a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act.
Blum formed Students for Fair Admissions, which filed the lawsuits against both schools in 2014.
The only institutions of higher education explicitly left out of the ruling were the nation’s military academies, Roberts wrote, suggesting that national security interests could affect the legal analysis.
Blum’s group had contended that colleges and universities can use other, race-neutral ways to assemble a diverse student body, including by focusing on socioeconomic status and eliminating the preference for children of alumni and major donors.
At the eight Ivy League universities, the number of nonwhite students increased from 27% in 2010 to 35% in 2021, according to federal data. Those men and women include Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander and biracial students.
In 2020, California voters easily rejected a ballot measure to bring back affirmative action.
A Pew Research Center survey released last week found that half of Americans disapprove of considerations of applicants’ race, while a third approve.