Supreme Courtroom criticizes affirmative motion on school campuses

The ultra-conservative United States Supreme Court appeared poised Monday to end affirmative action programs at universities in what would mark a new historic reversal after its abortion reversal.

The Supreme Court exceptionally devoted nearly five hours to the admissions process at the nation’s oldest private and public universities, Harvard and North Carolina.

Like many very selective institutions, they take into account the color or ethnicity of their candidates when evaluating their files. The goal is to correct inequalities resulting from the United States’ segregationist past and to increase the proportion of black, Hispanic or Native American students in higher education.

“Reverse racism” for some

Known as positive discrimination, this policy has always been heavily criticized in conservative circles, who find it opaque and see it as “reverse racism”. The Supreme Court, referred to on numerous occasions since 1978, has outlawed quotas but empowered universities to consider racial criteria, among other things, and ruled that seeking greater diversity on campus was “legitimate”.

In 2014, neocon activist Edward Blum chose a new angle of attack. At the head of an association called “Students for Fair Admission”, he accused the two universities of discriminating against students of Asian origin. After suffering multiple defeats in court, he turned to the High Court, which has undergone a major overhaul by Donald Trump.

“Racial criteria are a punishment for candidates of Asian descent,” pleaded one of his attorneys, Cameron Norris, on Monday, calling Harvard programs “racist.” The latter, who have significantly above-average academic results, would be more numerous on campus if their performance were the sole selection criterion, he argued.


For his colleague Patrick Strawbridge, the use of racial or ethnic criteria is “inherently divisive” and the Supreme Court must rule the practice unconstitutional.

Her arguments appeared to be getting through to a Supreme Court that has never been more diverse, with two African American judges and one Hispanic, but with a solid Conservative majority (six out of nine judges).

“What are the academic benefits of greater diversity? ‘ asked black judge Clarence Thomas, a critic of the positive discrimination programs he nonetheless benefited from to study at the prestigious Yale University.

Harvard used “diversity as an excuse” to screen out Jewish students in the 1930s, Justice Neil Gorsuch said. “The use of racial classifications is dangerous, there has to be an end point,” said Justice Amy Coney Barrett, recalling that the court envisioned that in 25 years this policy would no longer be necessary.

“Devastating effect?

The three progressive judges tried to defend the status quo. Ethnic criteria “are never considered” and students provide this data “on a voluntary basis,” pointed out African-American judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who withdrew from the Harvard filing because she sat on the institution’s board of directors.

If universities no longer have the right to consider ethno-racial criteria, “the place of minorities will collapse,” added Judge Elena Kagan, stressing that the campus served “as a breeding ground for the country’s leaders.” Such a decision “would be devastating,” added Elizabeth Prelogar, who pledged her support on behalf of Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration.

For her, diversity is essential in the army, where it strengthens the “cohesion” between the soldiers, but also in business or science, where it promotes “innovation”.

Large companies, including Google and General Motors, also wrote to the court before the hearing to stress that a “diverse workforce improves their performance” and that they selected them from pools of students on campus. The High Court must make its decision before the end of June 2023.

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