SCOTUS’s latest attack on affirmative action

The Supreme Court of the United States confirmed once again what an utterly reactionary, rightwing institution it is by striking down the right to use affirmative action in college admissions. The 6-3 ruling, issued June 29, stems from two cases – Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina – which claim that whites and Asians are victims of “reverse discrimination.”

Oct. 31, 2022, protest in front of the Supreme Court.

What this vote means is that “race-conscious admissions policies,” can no longer be used to assure that working class students of color, especially if they are Black and Brown, will have access to colleges and universities, whose exorbitant tuition fees have put millions into a lifetime of debt.  Military academies, tellingly, are exempt from this ban on affirmative action. The only exception is when young people’s lives are being threatened by imperialist war.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, argued that affirmative action violates the 14th Amendment – which on paper outlaws discrimination based on race – stating that “Eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.”  (New York Times, June 30)

This amendment was originally added to the U.S. Constitution in 1868 as an attempt to win full equality for formerly enslaved people of African descent during the short-lived Reconstruction period in the South. It was never intended to reinforce the advantage that white college applicants have over Black and Brown potential students!

The two women of color on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, wrote dissenting opinions.  Sotomayor wrote: “Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress. It holds that race can no longer be used in a limited way in college admissions to achieve such critical benefits. In so holding, the Court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.”

Jackson wrote: ‘“Even when the majority’s ad hoc statistical analysis is taken at face value, it hardly supports what the majority wishes to intimate: that Black students are being admitted based on UNC’s myopic focus on ‘race — and race alone.’” As the District Court observed, if these Black students “were largely defined in the admissions process by their race, one would expect to find that every” such student “demonstrating academic excellence . . . would be admitted.”’ (New York Times, June 30)

Asian group denounces ruling

Karen Choi, a Harvard student, outside Supreme Court on Oct. 31, 2022.

Committee of 100, a non-profit organization of prominent Chinese Americans, released a statement June 30 denouncing the SCOTUS ruling.

The Committee’s Interim President and Executive Director Cindy Tsai stated:

“Today’s decision strikes down established legal precedent that permitted higher education institutions to consider race as one of many factors in a holistic and individualized admissions process while prohibiting quotas, admissions caps, and minimums. Committee of 100 is disappointed by the Court’s decision to abolish race-conscious admissions policies. For centuries, college admissions policies discriminated against women and minorities. Race-conscious admissions policies started to correct that inequity and gave students of all backgrounds access to higher education.

“We believe an admissions process that considers each student holistically, including life experiences, accomplishments, and racial background, creates the richest educational experience for all and contributes to a stronger and more diverse and inclusive country. Looking forward, we encourage all communities to come together and work towards solutions that ensure the next generation of college students have enriching academic experiences with diverse student bodies.”

Affirmative action – a form of reparations

Part of a Nov. 14, 2022, WW article, entitled “With new legal attacks, affirmative action must be defended,” states: “Affirmative action is not about charity, nor is it a moral question. First, it is a recognition that racism and national oppression, which victimize people of color, permeates every aspect of the capitalist system in the areas of jobs, education, health care, housing and more. Second, quotas are one necessary remedy to provide for those who have been historically locked out of opportunities due to white supremacy, but in a limited way.

“White supremacy is rooted in the legacy of the brutal theft of Indigenous lands, the enslavement of African peoples and oppression of Latinx people — who, along with many Indigenous nations such as the Puebloan nations, lost a large part of Mexico, now known as the U.S. Southwest, in a bloody, genocidal war with the U.S. in 1848.

“The massive Civil Rights struggles in the South and righteous rebellions of Black people against poverty and unemployment in the Northern urban areas, and especially on the West Coast in 1965 in the Los Angeles Watts section, forced the U.S. government to give more than just lip service to the idea of affirmative action.

“It was the Nixon administration in 1969 that established the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, in consultation with Philadelphia con­trac­tors, that was authorized to establish numerical ranges for hiring African Americans. For instance, contractors were to hire 5% to 9% Black ironworkers, with additional increases each year after 1970 — until Nixon quickly backtracked on this policy.” (workers.org/2022/11/67666/)

SCOTUS, just like any capitalist institution, serves the interests of the billionaire ruling class which thrives on weakening the working class movement with divide and conquer tactics based on nationality, gender, gender identity and more. Consider the fact that SCOTUS just issued a ruling striking down President Joe Biden’s student loan debt relief in the amount of $400 billion, a victory for Wall Street.

Any progressive rulings from SCOTUS, no matter under a Republican or Democratic administration, emanate from the strength and pressure of mass struggles, including rebellions from workers and oppressed peoples in the streets.

For example, affirmative action was legally challenged in 1978 by the racist Allan Bakke, who claimed reverse discrimination when he was denied access to medical school. Affirmative action was upheld by SCOTUS, thanks to 35,000 mainly Black college students who took to the streets in Washington, D.C., to say “No to Bakke!”

And it will take a multinational mass response to come out in the streets and once again say no to racism, white supremacy and SCOTUS.

Monica Moorehead

Monica.Moorehead@workers.org

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Monica Moorehead

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