Colorblind in the Courtroom

The Supreme Court leans towards striking down affirmative action


Art by Sydney Steinwinder

On October 31,the Supreme Court heard cases against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s race-conscious admission policy. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) argued that the practice of considering race in applications, also known as affirmative action discriminates against Asian students. Proponents of affirmative action are concerned about the decrease of Black and Latinx representation in higher education if the court strikes down this policy. 

SFFA’s case is built around the claim that Asian students are racially profiled in college admissions and thus held to a higher standard due to the stereotype that Asian students are more studious and intelligent. This case brings up conflicting feelings for many in the Asian community regarding their stance on affirmative action. Ms. Ly, a student teacher at Garfield voiced, “I think the intentions of it are good, but there are better ways to go about it.” She referenced the 2021 case of the North Thurston school district in Washington who proposed that Asian students be categorized the same as white students, criticizing the erasure of the boundaries and lack of privilege Asian students face. Ms. Ly noted her personal experience of seeing her nephew who lives in California get rejected from countless universities despite a rigorous course load and 4.0 GPA. At the same time, Ly mentioned, “going to college changed the course of my life and allowed me to now speak from a place of privilege,” and that her perspective only reflects her experiences. Some in the Asian community are apprehensive about SFFA’s case due to its likely ulterior motives. Ed Blum, the face of SFFA is a White man who had previously tried to sue the court over affirmative action with a white student as the plaintiff. Historically, affirmative action has been an issue conservatives have opposed, a group that historically has not represented or had the interest of the Asian community. Supporters of affirmative action question if conservatives are merely exploiting the nuanced racial dynamics of being Asian in America to further their own party mission. 

Affirmative action as we know it today was introduced by President John F. Kennedy, and his successor Lyndon Johnson enacted it into law in 1965 in efforts to increase equity in education and employment. The policy was first challenged in 1978 by a White student who sued the state of California over admission discrimination based on race. The court ruled in favor of the University, deciding that race could be used in admission decisions but racial quotas were unlawful. In the years since, three more cases have been filed against affirmative action, in which the court maintained its stance. 

The debate on the legality of affirmative action largely falls on the interpretation of the 14th Amendment, the crowning triumph of Reconstruction, which ensured equal protection under the law regardless of race. Many conservative judges view equality in the constitution to mean treating all people the exact same, therefore laws such as affirmative action that give race based benefits go against the founding father’s writing. Justice Ketanji Brown refuted this colorblind stance in the SFFA hearing, where she said, “I don’t think that the historical record establishes that the founders believed that race neutrality or race blindness was required.” Justice Brown’s analysis argues that the constitution intended to achieve equality by accounting for the deep rooted privilege and oppression determined by race. UNC and Harvard lawyers supported this stance by referring to the Reconstruction laws that gave Black Americans specific benefits, ranging from land to education under the same Congress responsible for the 14th Amendment. 

Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Chief Justice John Roberts all have previously dissented upholding affirmative action. The three remaining conservative justices were appointed by Trump in the past several years, and will all likely vote in favor of SFFA. A decision from the Supreme Court is expected in June.