A 6-3 vote by the US Supreme Court has effectively ended American universities’ right to favour disadvantaged students on the basis of race. The end of affirmative action – in higher education but not the military – will force admissions staff to find other ways to create diverse student bodies and other pathways to academic success for those unable to buy them. As the NYT’s Adam Liptak writes, it will unavoidably “make US universities white and more Asian, and less Black and Latino”. The court’s ruling was on cases brought against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, accusing them of violating the equal protection clause of the US constitution’s 14th amendment. It addresses a real inequality: partly because of affirmative action, an Asian American applicant in the top academic decile is less likely to get into Harvard than a Black student in the fourth-from-lowest. But as the court’s three liberal judges noted, it presupposes a colourblind America that doesn’t exist. President Biden attacked the court afterwards as “not normal”, having been packed by his predecessor with social conservatives. Michelle Obama suggested money, power and privilege were all uncontested versions of affirmative action. Most Americans agree – they oppose affirmative action in college admissions, but they’d also like Harvard to end “legacy” places for children of alumni.
Photograph Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images