WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on June 29 announced its decision on Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, undermining the court’s long-standing support for affirmative action in higher education.
Affirmative action refers to certain education, contracting, and employment policies – such as race-conscious policies that consider race as one factor in a holistic admissions process – that aim to increase the representation of racial and ethnic groups that have been historically underrepresented. These groups include Black, Latino/Latina, Native American, and Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) students who face systemic barriers to educational opportunity, including cultural biases in standardized test questions and far less access to college preparatory courses, that harms their competitive edge in the college admissions process.
The chairs of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Long Beach) released the following joint statement:
“Today’s decision deals a needless blow to America’s promise of equal and fair opportunity. Casting aside decades of precedent, the court’s anti-opportunity majority further undermines its own legitimacy by gutting race-conscious university admissions, which will benefit the wealthy and well-connected most.
“We know that not all students are afforded equal opportunity in our education systems, and we know that diversity on college campuses benefits the entire student body by enriching their college experiences and better preparing them to enter our workforce. Holistic, race-conscious admissions policies allow all students, regardless of their race or ethnicity, to be able to tell the full story of who they are and participate in a thriving, multiracial democracy.
“Importantly, though, this decision should not be viewed to impact race-conscious processes outside the scope of university admissions.
“Despite this decision, the Tri-Caucus will never quit fighting alongside the unified civil and human rights community for an America where everyone can find belonging and pursue their aspirations on an equal footing. This extremist Supreme Court does not get to decide our values. We will always fight for diversity and representation in politics, business, culture, and beyond. It’s who we are as a nation and what makes us strong.
“Our members remain focused on dismantling the barriers that hinder progress and will always empower young people to chase their dreams. We will persist in securing federal funding and support for minority-serving institutions, conducting rigorous oversight of federal agencies that combat discrimination in education, and exerting pressure on administrators, public officials, business leaders, and community leaders to fulfill their legal and moral obligation to promote equal opportunity as well as champion diversity and racial equity.”
Chu continues: “After teaching community college for decades, I have long known that students learn best and graduate more prepared when they encounter diversity in the classroom. For AANHPI communities, the end of race-conscious admissions is unlikely to change the net numbers of Asian American acceptances at elite institutions, but AANHPI students from low-income, refugee, or indigenous backgrounds will encounter more hurdles to acceptance. That’s no net positive, and it’s why the majority of AANHPIs in America have expressed support for race-conscious admissions.
“With over 50 ethnicities speaking over 100 languages, the AANHPI community is itself incredibly diverse, and CAPAC will not lose sight of any part of our community’s access to equal and fair opportunity in admissions.”
Horsford continues: “Since 1978, the Supreme Court has held that race-based admissions policies in colleges and universities can be administered in keeping with the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Precedents set decades ago in the landmark Bakke decision have given students – regardless of their race or ethnicity – a better chance at equal admissions to our nation’s top schools, and our country has been made better for it. By delivering a decision on affirmative action so radical as to deny young people seeking an education equal opportunity in our education system, the Supreme Court has thrown into question its own legitimacy.
“Unfortunately, we have seen backlash to progress many times throughout our nation’s history. During Reconstruction, we had a mere 12 years of Black achievement in policy, politics, the arts and sciences, and education that were followed by 70 years of state-sanctioned Jim Crow. We didn’t stop fighting for equality then and we won’t stop now because too much is at stake to allow extremists to turn back the clock on progress.
“The Congressional Black Caucus is proud to stand alongside our colleagues of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) to fight for equal opportunity in admissions and to push back strongly against attempts to use this as a cultural wedge issue to pit communities of color against one another because our nation’s diversity is our greatest strength.”
Barragán continues: “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court dismantles more than 40 years of precedent to increase representation for marginalized groups in university and college campuses, erasing decades of progress. Race-conscious admission policies that allow universities to consider race as one of several factors in the admissions process are a critical and much-needed component to address systemic inequalities and foster diversity. It benefits the entire student body by enriching college experiences and better preparing students to enter their professions.
“Today’s decision will only benefit the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of marginalized communities and exacerbate barriers students of color face on their path to attaining an education. In California, we saw Latino student admissions drop by half at some of the top-state universities when race-conscious admissions were barred – leading to severely disproportionate representation of the largest minority group in the state at our top schools. Now vulnerable students across the country will be subjected to similar additional hurdles.
“Affirmative action assures that all of our students are exposed to multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, diverse learning environments that reflect the realities of the global workforce and society that our universities are preparing them to enter. The CHC will remain committed to leveling the playing field for marginalized groups and promoting the principles of equality.”