CHN Member Groups and Allies React: A “Rogue” Court Denies the Reality of Racial Inequality – and Life – in America


June 30, 2023

CHN member groups and allies reacted with anger and angst over Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the use of affirmative action in college admissions – as well as with fear that the country’s institutions of higher learning will become “re-segregated.” 

But they also expressed a spirit of determination – a collective will that the six justices who struck down affirmative action will not have the final say when it comes to fighting racial discrimination in our country. 

The Court ruled that admissions programs at Harvard and North Carolina that took applicants’ racial identity into account during admissions processes violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. 

“The student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual – not on the basis of race,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority. “Many universities have for too long done just the opposite. And in doing so, they have concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.” 

Roberts was joined in his opinion by the Court’s other five conservative justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett all were nominated by former President Donald Trump. Dissenting from the majority ruling were Justices Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote a lengthy dissent, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, who dissented in the North Carolina case but recused herself from the Harvard case, where she served as a member of the school’s governing body.  

Reaction to the Court’s ruling from CHN member groups and allies was quick and harsh.  CHN’s Executive Director Deborah Weinstein joins with its members and allies in making this statement:  “Race-conscious legislation is needed to address centuries of state-sanctioned discrimination. That is the meaning of the 14th Amendment, now subverted by the Supreme Court. The Coalition on Human Needs stands with its allies in seeing the stance of the Court’s majority as contrary to hard- and duly won law, to the requirements of conscience, and to the basic needs of our nation. Racial discrimination in education holds us back.  It must be rooted out, and strengthening a full range of admissions and retention strategies to support students with low incomes can help. But racial discrimination is not over in this nation. The fight against it must grow stronger.” 

Indivar Dutta-Gupta, President and Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), noted that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment was widely understood to authorize – not restrict – the sort of race-conscious policies that the Court struck down with Thursday’s ruling. 

“Holistic, race-conscious admissions policies offer upward mobility for Black and Brown communities,” Dutta-Gupta said. “The Court insists that such policies cannot go on indefinitely. Yet, we are not aware of an expiration date for racism and racial discrimination. As Justice Sotomayor said in her dissent, ‘Ignoring race will not equalize a society that is racially unequal. What was true in the 1860s, and again in 1954, is true today: Equality requires acknowledgment of inequality.’” 

Maya Wiley, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, noted that “today’s America has still not lived up to the ideals that we deeply share as Americans.” 

“We are in a country today where we are still struggling to have a fair right to vote,” she said. “When we talk about educational opportunity, we’re talking about the need to create more opportunities for every single American without regard to where they live, how many resources they have, or the color of their skin, and the longstanding history of throwing up barriers in the face of too many of our communities because of how we look, our languages, or nation of origin. Justice Ketanji Jackson is right in her dissent – we want a country where what we look like does not impede our opportunity. We do not yet live in it.” 

Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, President and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund, pledged that, “Our children, their families, and those of us who stand with them will keep fighting to shape a nation where young people grow up with dignity, hope, and joy.” 

“Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce determined earlier this year that if the Court decided as they did today, selective institutions will be ‘extremely unlikely to enroll student bodies that come close to mirroring the demographic diversity of the high school class,’” Wilson said. 

Patrick Gaspard, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, noted that for four decades, affirmative action has been one of the most effective tools the nation’s various institutions have for fighting discrimination and promoting equality. 

“It led to more diverse workplaces and helped millions escape poverty and step into the middle class,” he said. “In states that banned affirmative action, public universities saw dramatic declines in the number of minority students admitted. Now we must ensure the same thing doesn’t happen nationwide. In the wake of today’s ruling, colleges and universities must now redouble their efforts to seek a diverse student body by focusing on low-income students and promoting geographic diversity.” 

Becky Pringle, President of the National Education Association, said the ruling “by an out-of-touch and hyper-conservative Supreme Court [is] yet more evidence that the court is not working for all of us.” 

“The White House and Senate must hold the Supreme Court to the same laws and standards as the rest of us,” she said. “And the White House and the Senate must continue to fill all judicial vacancies with qualified, fair-minded individuals who are committed to civil and human rights and social and economic justice so that our legal system can serve us all.” 

Prosperity Now said the ruling “needlessly jeopardizes students of color access to economic opportunity that higher education provides.”  

“Students benefit academically and socially from more diverse campuses,” the group said. “Not only is racial diversity critical for the economic opportunity of students of color and the learning of all students, but fostering educational diversity and greater opportunity is critical to our nation’s wellbeing and future. Evidence shows that educational attainment improves lifetime earnings, and indeed, Black and Latino workers do earn significantly more with bachelor’s degrees though they continue to lag behind White workers with comparable degrees.” 

AFSCME President Lee Saunders called the ruling “a shameful step backwards in our nation’s history, and a reminder that we must continue to organize for our freedoms.” 

“Once again, the anti-worker majority on the Supreme Court has chosen to advance the agenda of those who seek to take away our freedoms,” he said. “We live in a system of deeply entrenched systemic inequalities where Black and Brown people continue to face discrimination due to the color of their skin. If we are to truly level the playing field for people of color, we cannot pretend to be ‘colorblind.’” 

Wisdom O. Cole, National Director, NAACP Youth & College Division, warned that “by failing to uphold affirmative action in today’s decision, the Supreme Court risks re-segregating our educational system and undermining the future leaders of our democracy and the drivers of our economy.” 

“The impact of affirmative action extends beyond education: it touches all aspects of our society, from our legal and health care systems to corporate boardrooms,” Cole said. “It is about securing true equity through adequate representation…Let’s be clear – this Court has gone rogue, and it’s up to our Congressional leaders to hold them accountable.” 

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, called the ruling “a catastrophic decision that will have dire outcomes for millions of Americans for decades to come.” 

“This decision ignores the original sin of this country – it is a throwback to a cruel, racist past that admissions policies like this tried to repair,” Weingarten said. “This decision doesn’t simply end affirmative action, it has huge consequences for public life far beyond public education. Ignoring the facts before them, the majority pretends that both discrimination and the effects of discrimination simply do not exist and do not need to be tackled.”  

Johanna Chao Kreilick, President of Union of Concerned Scientists, agreed that the ruling “doesn’t just affect college campuses.” 

“Discrimination in access to education will mean the loss of critical perspectives in government, medicine, law, and scientific and technical professions,” Kreilick said. “The Justices in the majority today are solidifying the longstanding racial barriers in these fields, masking the inequitable impact by using the language of equal protection to justify their decision.” 

Diana Hwang, Founder and Executive Director of the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative (AAWPI), called the ruling “an attack on the movement for a multiracial democracy.” 

“Extremists have used our AAPI communities as a wedge in the effort to undo generations of racial progress – though the majority of Asian Americans support affirmative action,” Hwang said. “When all is said and done, when this ruling becomes reality, we too will be left behind.” 

Jocelyn Frye, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said race-conscious affirmative action in higher education has offered a path to socioeconomic mobility for students of color, especially women of color, and has improved the quality of education and broadened horizons for all backgrounds. 

“Today’s decision will not only create more barriers to equitable education, but also impact the diversity of the pipeline for our workforce at all levels, particularly in our already strapped health care workforce – which will further harm health outcomes for women of color as well as economic mobility for health care workers of color,” she said.