Students and protesters gather at the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., after the high court struck down affirmative action for college admissions. (Ja'Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
Students and protesters gather at the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., after the high court struck down affirmative action for college admissions. (Ja'Mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

Among multiple decisions that have been viewed as attacks on the rights of people of color and marginalized groups, the Supreme Court issued the death knell to affirmative action on June 29, and the following day, blocked President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, which aimed to provide up to $20,000 in relief to millions of borrowers.  

Striking Down Affirmative Action

As she watched her conservative majority colleagues on the high court strike down the value and lawfulness of affirmative action last Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote another masterpiece to express her dissent.

Jackson’s disapproval could easily be summed up in a single and precise sentence: “Our country has never been colorblind.”

“The best that can be said of the majority’s perspective is that it proceeds (ostrich-like) from the hope that preventing consideration of race will end racism,” Jackson wrote in blasting the six-member majority. 

“But if that is its motivation, the majority proceeds in vain. If the colleges of this country are required to ignore a thing that matters, it will not just go away. It will take longer for racism to leave us.”

In the majority ruling, the conservative justices declared that the admissions policies of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC), which consider race a factor, were unconstitutional. 

Students for Fair Admissions had presented two cases for consideration against Harvard and UNC, representing private and public universities. 

They argued that the practice violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and put white and Asian-American applicants at a disadvantage.

Harvard and UNC maintained that affirmative action should be upheld, contending that their admissions policies align with previous court decisions. 

They argued that considering race ensures a diverse student body. They denied any discrimination in their practices.

However, the Court ruled that affirmative action violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. 

The justices stated that the universities’ policies do not conform to the limited exceptions for equal rights without regard to race, color, or nationality.

The justices determined that the universities failed to provide sufficient justification for using race in admissions. 

Further, they claimed that affirmative action programs do not comply with the Equal Protection Clause’s requirement that race not be used negatively or as a stereotype. 

The Court noted that affirmative action resulted in a lower acceptance rate for Asian American applicants at Harvard.

The Court further stated that basing admissions on race leads to stereotyping and assumes that individuals of a particular race think alike, which it said it found offensive and demeaning. 

The justices did acknowledge that race can still be considered if it is directly tied to an applicant’s character or unique abilities that they can contribute to the university.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the majority opinion, emphasized that students should be evaluated based on their experiences rather than their race. 

He criticized universities that he said had wrongly prioritized skin color, stating that America’s constitutional history does not support such a choice.

Jackson lambasted that opinion.

“With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces, ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat,” Jackson forcefully dissented.

“But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life. And having so detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences, the Court has now been lured into interfering with the crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America’s real-world problems,” Jackson asserted.

“No one benefits from ignorance. Race matters in the lived experience of Americans, even if legal barriers are gone.” 

Local Organizations, Institutions Consider Attack to Affirmative Action 

By gutting equitable access to higher education, the Court ruled against Black and Brown students’ access to the American Dream, said Jessica Giles, executive director of DFER DC.

“This ruling erases decades of progress — a particularly concerning reality given our higher-education system continues to uphold systemic, racist barriers to entry that keep doors of opportunity closed on Black and Brown students,” Giles said.

“Now more than ever, we must upend the college admission process to ensure it is optimized for racial equity, starting by abolishing legacy preference — a textbook example of systemic racism. In the absence of race-conscious admissions policies, we strongly urge D.C. elected officials to pass policies that ensure our Black and Brown students complete postsecondary education and can obtain economic prosperity.”

Sharon R. Pinder, president and CEO of the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council, serving Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia, criticized the Court in an op-ed.

“Across the country, we see systematic attacks on programs established to support affirmative action and the inclusion of minorities in education, business, and other aspects of American life,” Pinder insisted. 

“From what we are witnessing, it has gone beyond philosophical conversations and debates to hardcore legal action.”  

Diversity is key to the furtherance of institutions, as emphasized by University of Maryland (UMD) President Darryll Pines.

“We believe it is at the intersection of diversity and excellence where innovation is born, where ideas are nurtured, and where we begin to solve the grand challenges of our time,” Pines said. 

“While the laws that govern the way we achieve that diversity may change, our commitment will not waver.”

SCOTUS Blocks Student Loan Program

The day after its decision on affirmative action, the Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s ambitious student loan forgiveness program, which was intended to provide up to $20,000 in relief to millions.

The decision comes as a blow to the Biden administration’s efforts to alleviate the burden of student debt on struggling individuals.

Considering the decision, sources close to the White House said the Biden administration intends to emphasize to borrowers and their families that Republicans are responsible for denying them the much-needed relief that the president has been fighting to deliver.

The White House said it remains committed to its mission of easing the financial strain on Americans burdened by student loans.

Giles also condemned the conservative justices for what she perceived as their alignment with Republican political interests.

The executive director of DFER DC argued that the decision has not only disrupted the lives of over 40 million student loan borrowers but has also dealt a particularly devastating blow to Black Americans.

She asserted that the ruling will exacerbate the racial wealth gap, push numerous borrowers into financial hardship, and erode public trust in the Supreme Court.

In response to this setback, DFER DC urged Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council to take proactive measures to expand existing programs aimed at reducing student loan debt and fixing the flaws within the higher education system.

The organization said it believes that local initiatives can help mitigate the negative impact of the Supreme Court’s decision and provide much-needed support to borrowers in the absence of federal relief.

President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, with an estimated cost of $400 billion, was designed to offer significant relief to borrowers burdened by the weight of their student loans.

However, with the program now blocked by the Supreme Court, the administration will need to explore alternative avenues to address the pressing issue of student debt in the United States.

“In the last two days, they have set their sights on college students to either block them from getting into elite institutions or put a financial albatross around their neck so they can’t succeed,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton in a statement.

“This Court clearly has a self-imposed mandate to legislate from the bench. They have waged war on women, unions, Black and Brown Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, religious freedom, and democracy,” Sharpton said, also referring to the Supreme Court’s June 30 decision to allow artists, photographers, videographers, writers and other creative entrepreneurs to refuse services to LGBTQIA couples if it runs contrary to their beliefs.

“We applaud President Biden’s commitment to following through on this campaign pledge, because millions of Black and Brown Americans are counting on it.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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