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SCOTUS strikes down affirmative action in school admissions

The Supreme Court
Evan Vucci
The Supreme Court

Affirmative Action will no longer play a role in college admissions. In a divided vote on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race-conscious admissions practices violate the Constitution.

Institutions will now be forced to reshape their admission plans and create new ways to ensure diversity in student bodies. The new ruling applies to schools who receive federal funding.

While alternative plans are still uncertain for many institutions, schools like Grand Valley State University (GVSU) already have policies in place against the consideration of race in admissions.

In a statement President Philomena V. Mantella, said after Michigan voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 precluding discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race, the school made changes to the way it awards identity-based scholarships and programs are open to all students.

Her statement reads in part:

Our university remains resolute in our dedication to enrich society through the advancement of equity. Our Reach Higher 2025 initiative serves as a testament to our enduring pursuit to build an inclusive community where every individual has access to opportunities and the support to thrive regardless of their background or circumstances.

I am proud of the efforts taken by many who have and will continue to do work that is allowable and permissible and recognize the invaluable contributions that individuals from various backgrounds bring to the learning environment. The results can be seen on our campuses every day and will remain a focus of all that we do moving forward.

On a wider scale, a 2019 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, found about a quarter of schools said race had a “considerable” or “moderate” impact on admissions. More than half reported race played no role whatsoever.

The Association spoke out against the Supreme Court ruling, calling it a misunderstanding of the college admission process and the effects of race and racism.

“The court’s decision is a bitter setback in that it overturns decades of precedent in the practice of race-conscious admission, misrepresents the extent to which colleges have shaped their practices on past court decisions, and willfully ignores the experience of millions of under-represented students and the professionals and institutions striving to make postsecondary access more fair and equitable,” said Angel Pérez, NACAC CEO.

Proponents of the decision, like Chief Justice John Roberts and five additional justices who voted along ideological lines, maintain the decision upholds constitutional history.

According to the Associated Press, Roberts said for too long universities have “concluded wrongly that the touchstone of a individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Roberts wrote an applicant can still state “how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise,” and colleges may use this in admission consideration. However, he adds schools “may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today.”

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  • The Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases testing affirmative action in higher education. Three white students who have challenged the University of Michigan's admissions programs allege the university uses a quota system that unfairly benefits minority applicants. Hear NPR's Nina Totenberg.
  • The Supreme Court rules that minority college applicants may be given an edge when applying for admissions, but limits how great a factor race can play. University presidents around the country say the decision upholding the University of Michigan Law School's admission program provides a long-needed model for how to create affirmative action programs that will stand up in court. Hear NPR's Nina Totenberg.
  • Following arguments in two cases that challenge a University of Michigan policy that considers race in admissions, the Supreme Court appears evenly split on the issue. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who signals she believes race can be one of many factors used in choosing among many qualified applicants, is viewed as the decisive swing vote. Hear NPR's Nina Totenberg.
  • The Bush administration prepares to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of three white students who have challenged the University of Michigan's admissions programs. The students allege the university uses a quota system that unfairly benefits minority applicants. Hear NPR's Don Gonyea and U-M Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman.