Friday’s New York Times led with the important Supreme Court ruling outlawing race-based “affirmative action” programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, with wide-ranging ramifications both in college and the workplace.
The paper’s SCOTUS beat reporter Adam Liptak was petulant in defeat, seeing a delegitimized Supreme Court but also perhaps accidentally conceding an important point to affirmative action opponents in his lead story, with the banner headline “JUSTICES RULE AGAINST AFFIRMATIVE ACTION” and subheads “Conservative Court Reshaping U.S. — Biden Assails Shift for Colleges.”
The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected affirmative action at colleges and universities around the nation, declaring that the race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina were unlawful and sharply curtailing a policy that had long been a pillar of higher education.
The vote was 6 to 3, with the court’s liberal members in dissent.
“The Harvard and U.N.C. admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the equal protection clause,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping and lack meaningful end points.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor summarized her dissent from the bench, a rare move that signals profound disagreement, and said that affirmative action was crucial to countering persistent and systematic racial discrimination.
“The court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society,” she said in her written dissent.
After years of strenuous liberal denials that affirmative action at elite schools was discriminatory against Asians, Liptak pretty much admitted it:
The decision all but ensured that the student population at the campuses of elite institutions would become whiter and more Asian and less Black and Latino. It was also expected to set off a scramble as schools revisit their admissions practices, and it could complicate diversity efforts elsewhere, narrowing the pipeline of highly credentialed minority candidates and making it harder for employers to consider race in hiring.
The ruling demonstrated that the court’s conservative supermajority has been moving at a brisk pace to take on some of the thorniest and most divisive issues in American society including abortion, guns and now race — all in the span of a year. It also reflected President Donald J. Trump’s outsize imprint on the court after his appointment of three justices, renewing questions about whether the court’s approach, which on Thursday upended more than 40 years of precedent, threatens the stability of the law and the court’s legitimacy.
Liptak had to reluctantly admit that the Supreme Court was on the side of the public on this one:
Public opinion polls offer a complicated picture of where people stand on affirmative action, and the numbers vary with how questions are phrased. But on balance, race-conscious admissions programs are unpopular, suggesting that Thursday’s ruling will not give rise to a backlash like the one that followed last year’s decision eliminating a constitutional right to an abortion.
He kept citing Sotomayor’s losing opinion.
The point, Chief Justice Roberts said, was that applicants must be assessed individually. “In other words,” he wrote, “the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race.”
Justice Sotomayor said that was thin gruel.
“This supposed recognition that universities can, in some situations, consider race in application essays is nothing but an attempt to put lipstick on a pig,” she wrote.
In all, Sotomayor or her minority opinion was cited in 14 paragraphs, garnering twice as much story space as Roberts and his majority opinion (seven).