Can American universities consider skin color or origin when admitting applicants? The answer had been “yes” since 1978, but now the US Supreme Court has declared this “affirmative action” unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that considering the color of skin or ancestry of applicants for admission to universities is unconstitutional. For far too long, many universities have regarded skin color as the “touchstone” in the context of “affirmative action” – and not the challenges and skills that an applicant has mastered or acquired. Even if the approval procedures in question were introduced with good intentions, they were unconstitutional, according to the Supreme Court.
Biden: Court undoes decades of progress
US President Joe Biden described the decision as a “great disappointment”. “We should never allow this country to move away from the dream it was founded on: that there are opportunities for everyone, not just a select few,” Biden said at the White House. He echoed the words of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who disagreed with the majority view in a dissenting opinion: The court’s decision is undoing decades of meaningful progress. “Discrimination still exists in America,” Biden said.
The verdict had been eagerly awaited. Opponents of “Affirmative Action” had sued the admissions process at the elite Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. They argued that college admissions policies were discriminatory. The court, with its conservative majority, is now again overturning a decision in a decades-old precedent. In 1978, the Supreme Court decided that skin color should not be the decisive factor in the approval process – but it could certainly be taken into account. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling in later decisions.
The promotion of ethnic minorities under the term “affirmative action” has been a hot topic in the USA for decades. It should promote diversity among students. Affirmative action has been used in the United States since the Civil Rights Movement in the mid-20th century. The idea behind it was to counteract discrimination against blacks, for example, who often find it more difficult to study in the USA due to structural obstacles, with targeted support. “Universities have an important interest in a diverse student body that promotes the values of academic freedom and equal protection,” argues the civil rights organization ACLU. Students who learn from each other because of their different backgrounds are better prepared to be successful in society.
Ministry of Education to examine measures to promote diversity
The “Affirmative Action” was not perfect, said ex-US President Barack Obama after the verdict. But she has enabled generations of students like his wife Michelle and him to prove that they belong.
In its reasoning, the court pointed out that universities could continue to take into account how the skin color or origins shaped the lives of the applicants – “whether due to discrimination, inspiration or in some other way”. In a reaction, the ACLU also referred to this passage and called on the universities to increase equal opportunities, for example by dispensing with standardized tests for admission and increasing financial support Tour de France 2023. Biden directed the Department of Education to investigate what policies can help create a more inclusive and diverse student body.
The Supreme Court had moved significantly to the right under former Republican President Donald Trump. When the case was heard at the end of last year, there were already indications that the court could consider skin color to be unconstitutional in the approval process. Around a year ago, the Supreme Court overturned the right to abortion that had been in force for almost half a century in a spectacular decision. Then there were nationwide protests. According to polls, people’s trust in the court, which often has the last word on the most contentious issues, is declining.