The Impact of the Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Decision

Op-Ed: The Supreme Court will end affirmative action. What happens next? The recent Supreme Court ruling on the University of Texas’s admissions policy on race is certain to have a dramatic impact on the…

The Impact of the Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Decision

Op-Ed: The Supreme Court will end affirmative action. What happens next?

The recent Supreme Court ruling on the University of Texas’s admissions policy on race is certain to have a dramatic impact on the nation. And the implications of this decision will be far-ranging, from changing how universities evaluate students’ qualifications to the future of affirmative action programs at colleges and universities across the nation.

However, in this article, I offer an overview of how the decision could impact some of the most significant affirmative action programs. Many of these programs are already facing major changes, but as the University of Texas case shows, those programs are more likely to be on the defensive in the aftermath of their potential downfall.

What is affirmative action?

Affirmative action refers to the government’s interest in promoting the social equality of its citizens. While the concept of affirmative action dates back to the Reconstruction Era, the U.S. Supreme Court has been defining it over the past half century. Specifically, the Supreme Court has defined what is permissible affirmative action as the following:

The use of race or ethnicity to achieve some perceived benefit.

All of the following are consistent with the concept of affirmative action:

A government program which seeks to encourage or reward individuals based on their “merit”;

The government’s use of racial preferences; and

The government’s use of a “public benefit” or “discretionary use of public funds”.

At bottom, then, affirmative action seeks to promote the social equality of racial minorities; it is a form of social reform aimed at equalizing the opportunities and abilities of individuals.

Where does the U.S. Supreme Court’s affirmation of affirmative action come from?

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed affirmative action as a form of government policy in 1978, when it rendered the landmark decision, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. In that ruling, Justice Powell wrote the opinion of the court, which included a lengthy preface asserting that affirmative action

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