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Affirmative Action and the Supreme Court Conundrum

By Sadie Gugliotta


The Supreme Court of the United States has come to a moment of reckoning. A recent case heard by the bench, Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard, concerned the validity and constitutionality of race-conscious admission, also known as affirmative action. With the appointment of a majority-conservative bench,  including Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, Niel Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett, many doubt the court will rule in favor of upholding affirmative action as a method of diversifying college spaces.


Affirmative action has long been lauded as a necessary consideration in the process of admissions, as people of color, and especially those of the Indigenous, Latinx, and Black communities, are far more disadvantaged and face inequity in the current institutions of our government and economy. Thus, it is harder for them to succeed in systems that were built for and primarily presided over by white people.


According to Josie F. Abugov from The Harvard Crimson,  the recent campaigns to end affirmative action on the campuses of Harvard and the University of North Carolina were championed by Edward J. Blum, an activist who had previously been involved in the case of  Fisher v. University of Texas, in which Abigail Fisher argued that she faced discrimination because of the fact that she is white during admissions deliberation at the school. It is on behalf, perhaps surprisingly, of the Asian students at Harvard that Blum argues exclusion, challenging not only the university itself, but the 40% of colleges that practice affirmative action, as Abugov notes.


This may be a less familiar format of criticism towards affirmative action, but it will serve the same purpose: to maintain the whiteness of institutions such as these. If Harvard were to follow the trajectory modeled by the nine states that have already prohibited race-conscious admissions on public campuses, the clear result of ruling in Blum’s favor would reduce the Black population at Harvard to half of its size, while precipitously increasing the number of majority white, and some Asian, students (Abugov, Josie F). 


While this is alarming, more disturbing is the fact that even with affirmative action in place, Harvard’s student body is overwhelmingly white and/or wealthy, only cushioning their $50.9 billion endowment, which arguably necessitates more thoughtful distribution of their funds (Larkin, Max).


In the past, the Supreme Court has warned against affirmative action, instead promoting “race-neutral” admissions on college campuses. In fact, Thomas said on the subject, “I’ve heard the word ‘diversity’ quite a few times, and I don’t have a clue what it means. It seems to mean everything for everyone” ((Abugov, Josie F). With the reclusion of liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson due to her history as part of the Harvard Board of Overseers, as well as the obvious conservative bent of the Supreme Court, a devastating conclusion is reached: little hope remains for the future of affirmative action.

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