Supreme Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action in Colleges, Effectively Ending Race-Conscious Admissions

By Jessie Mitnick, age 15

The 40th anniversary of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington celebration rally on the day after the unveiling of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I HAVE A DREAM commemorative plaque at the Lincoln Memorial in August 2003. Image by Elvert Barnes Protest Photography on Flickr

Affirmative action, a policy which allows elite universities to make conscious decisions about diversity within their student body, has been effectively ended by the Supreme Court of the United States following an appeal in June. 

For many Black, Latinx and other students of color, affirmative action policies act as a lifeline to help them gain access to higher education. Our country’s history of systemic inequality has created huge disparities in the education of lower-income students, particularly ones of color. From poorly funded schools to high poverty rates and expensive tuition, these students face many obstacles.

The majority conservative Supreme Court ruled affirmative action unconstitutional in a pair of cases over the admissions programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, declaring race cannot be a factor in admissions and claiming that this policy discriminated against white and Asian students as it only benefited applicants from underrepresented backgrounds.

Affirmative action in college admissions stems from the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Schools that use this policy are more often elite colleges, as it is recognized that there is unequal access to education opportunities in the United States, according to Katharine Meyer, a fellow in the Governance Studies program for the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. Many colleges were not permitted to practice affirmative action even before the recent ruling, and nine states had already banned the practice.

Meanwhile, legacy admissions, a practice that allows colleges to give preference to applicants related to alumni, remains in place. These admissions disproportionately benefit white and wealthy students. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, legacy students make up 10 to 25% of available student admissions at top universities. At Harvard, legacy admissions made up 33% of the admitted class of 2025, while Black and Latinx students made up only 16%. Legacy admissions do not exist in all universities; 27 of the top 100 colleges do not allow this practice. Colleges that have ended their legacy admissions policy, such as Johns Hopkins University and Amherst College, have reported that since doing so, there has been an increase in the number of nonwhite students enrolled.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an advocate for affirmative action policies, and even promoted racial quotas in employment. But as our country passes the anniversary of his famous speech, it is hard to accept the reality that the very things Dr. King was fighting for 60 years ago remain battles even today. 

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