Race Still Matters The End of Affirmative Action and Its Impact on US Higher Education

The United States Supreme Court’s decision to turn its back on affirmative action may mark a pivotal point for higher education, potentially leading to diminished diversity in tertiary institutions and professional sectors.

The US Supreme Court, the apex of the judicial branch, serves as the ultimate arbitrator of federal law, wielding the authority to interpret the Constitution and evaluate the legitimacy of statutes. Its nine justices, appointed for life, determine the contours of civil rights, delineate powers of government and affect the life of every American. The recent decision on race-based university admissions once again underlines this body’s monumental sway over American society.

In a landmark ruling in June 2023 that set the nation abuzz, the US Supreme Court overturned race consideration in university admissions. The decision, viewed as a seismic shift in the American higher education landscape, marks an end to the use of racial preferences that have been a contentious aspect of college admissions policies for decades.

This policy, commonly known as affirmative action, was originally conceived in the 1970s as a way to redress historical racial imbalances by factoring in race during the university admissions process. Its goal was to create a more equitable and diverse educational environment. However, the court’s ruling deems such consideration unconstitutional, asserting that it violates equal protection principles by treating applicants differently based on race.

The fallout of this decision is complex and wide-ranging, affecting not just prospective students and universities, but also igniting a national debate about the role of race in American society. This verdict ushers in a new era of university admissions and could precipitate profound changes in the racial makeup of student bodies across the nation. A contentious journey lies ahead as America grapples with the intricacies of race, access and equal opportunity in the sphere of higher education.


In the arena of US university admissions, the spectre of race consideration has a history punctuated by both fierce debate and judicial scrutiny. Affirmative action, a policy devised in the 1960s to redress historical racial imbalances, has been at the centre of this tug-of-war.

Originally implemented as part of the Civil Rights Movement’s broader push for racial equality, affirmative action intended to level the educational playing field, factoring in race as one component in a holistic admissions process. By the 1970s, it found itself thrust into the judicial spotlight, with the Supreme Court upholding it in the Bakke case in 1978 but limiting its application.

The policy’s constitutionality was repeatedly contested in the following decades, enduring a turbulent legal journey marked by intermittent court battles. Two significant rulings, Grutter v. Bollinger and Fisher v. University of Texas, upheld the policy, affirming the compelling interest of universities in fostering a diverse student body.

Nonetheless, affirmative action remained divisive, inspiring opposition from critics who viewed it as a form of reverse discrimination. This led to some states banning the practice, leaving a patchwork approach across the country.

This history, marked by fluctuating support and critique, has culminated in the recent Supreme Court’s decision to abolish race consideration in admissions—a seismic shift that stands to recalibrate the mechanics of university admissions and the ongoing national conversation about race and opportunity.


The US Supreme Court has deemed racial consideration in university admissions unconstitutional. The Court, in a sharply divided opinion, ruled that policies considering race infringe on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, asserting that every applicant should be treated equally under the law, regardless of race.

The majority opinion, grounded in constitutional principles, opined that racial preferences in admission policies veer into dangerous territory by treating applicants differently based on their race. They saw such considerations as a violation of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, thereby advocating for race-blind admissions as the path toward true equality.

However, the decision was not without strong dissent. Vocal opposition from three justices, notably Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, painted a different picture. They argued that the decision disregards the country’s history of racial inequality and the role of affirmative action as a remedial tool. They posited that the ruling fails to acknowledge the systemic barriers faced by minority applicants and naively suggests an idealistic ‘colour-blind’ society that does not yet exist.

This stark divergence of opinion reflects the larger national debate on the role of race in society and education. While the court’s decision may appear to favour equality, it ignites critical questions about the complexities of achieving racial equity in a nation grappling with its historical legacies.


Historically, race consideration in university admissions, particularly affirmative action, has significantly impacted admission rates for African American and African immigrant students. It aimed to level the playing field, fostering greater diversity and inclusion in higher education institutions.

However, with the Supreme Court’s decision to end race consideration, it is predicted that there may be a decline in admission rates for these groups. Critics fear a reversion to the racially skewed demographics of the past, as universities shift to race-blind admissions, potentially deepening educational disparities.

Overall, the ruling exacerbates the tensions between notions of ‘equality’ and ‘equity,’ underlining the complexities of addressing America’s historical racial inequalities. It presents a defining moment for the nation to consider the contours of access, representation and opportunity in higher education.


In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision, universities must chart a new path forward to preserve diversity and inclusivity. A crucial part of this journey is to explore alternative approaches that abide by the law while promoting a diverse student body.

One such approach might be the implementation of class-based affirmative action, focusing on socioeconomic status as a proxy to indirectly address racial imbalances. Another potential avenue is investing more heavily in holistic admissions processes that evaluate a broad range of factors, including leadership, community involvement and personal hardship.

Universities can also redouble their outreach efforts to attract a diverse applicant pool. This might include initiatives to improve access to advanced courses for disadvantaged high school students, offer application assistance and increase financial aid availability.

However, these new approaches won’t be without their challenges. Legally, any admission policies that indirectly result in racial imbalances may face court challenges. Politically, the volatile issue of race in education will continue to ignite passionate debate and could influence future educational policies and political campaigns.

In conclusion, the way forward is not simple or straightforward. It requires innovation, commitment and a deep-rooted belief in the importance of diversity in higher education. Only time will tell how universities will adapt to this new landscape and how society will grapple with the persisting challenge of ensuring equitable opportunities for all

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