The Supreme Court this week raised the bar for considering race in university admissions, ruling that colleges must be able to demonstrate that “no workable race-neutral alternatives” could be used to achieve diversity. The justices voted 7–1 to send a case challenging the University of Texas’s use of race-based affirmative action back to the appeals court for reconsideration. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that in approving Texas’s system of ensuring diversity, the lower court had failed to apply the legal standard of “strict scrutiny.” Universities that wish to use racial preferences in admissions, he said, must prove that they could not achieve “sufficient diversity without using racial classifications.” The ruling is expected to set off a flurry of legal challenges to college affirmative action policies.
This decision “could have been a lot worse,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. While colleges must now face more rigorous scrutiny of their admissions policies, the court did not rule that any consideration of race was unconstitutional, as many had expected it would. For those who believe America is still not colorblind, “it was probably the best we could have hoped for.”
Affirmative action is now on borrowed time, said NationalReview.com in an editorial. This decision strengthens the courts’ power to question how colleges use racial preferences, emboldening plaintiffs to bring fresh challenges. That could make race-based admissions policies a “costly prospect” for universities—and sooner or later, one of those challenges will strike down this discriminatory practice once and for all.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Taking race into account was once essential, said John McWhorter in NYMag.com. But “40 years is enough.” Of course racism still exists, but implying that minorities can only succeed if given a leg up fosters the low expectations “we otherwise rightly call bigotry.” Today’s underclass comes in all colors, so the only “logical, fair, and progressive” kind of affirmative action would consider those disadvantaged by economic inequality, not race.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.