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Education secretary says Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action is a setback in the fight for equal opportunity

June 29, 2023
The court ruled 6 to 3 that race cannot be used as a that race cannot be a factor in determining college admissions.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says the Supreme Court decision curtailing the consideration of race in college admissions will take the United States "decades backward."

The court ruled 6 to 3 that race cannot be a factor in admissions and institutions of higher education must look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

Chalkbeat reports that the court's ruling means the nation’s top colleges are likely to enroll fewer Black, Latino, and Native American students.

The ruling severely restricts colleges’ ability to use affirmative action to create more racially diverse campuses and will likely curtail broader efforts to pursue racial equity in higher education. 

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s race-conscious admissions programs had violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars discrimination, because they “lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points.”

Cardona issued a statement in response:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision takes our country decades backward, sharply limiting a vital tool that colleges have used to create vibrant, diverse campus communities," Cardona says. "Students of color have long faced inequities in education and college access, and today’s ruling is yet another blow to the fight for equal opportunity. As we consider today’s decision, our commitment to educational opportunity for all Americans is unshaken, and our efforts to promote diversity in higher education are undeterred. The Department of Education is a civil rights agency, committed to equal access and educational opportunity for all students.

“I want to send a message to all aspiring students, especially Black, Latino, Asian American, Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and other students from underserved communities: we see you and we need you. Do not let this ruling deter you from pursuing your educational potential. Our colleges and our country itself cannot thrive and compete in the 21st century without your talent, ingenuity, perseverance, and ambition.  

“To our higher education leaders reviewing the decision: now is not the time to lessen your commitment to campus communities that reflect the rich diversity of this nation, which enhance the college experience in myriad ways and prepare students from all walks of life to live, work, and lead our democracy together. Your leadership and commitment to ensuring our educational institutions reflect the vast and rich diversity of our people are needed now more than ever. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting you in pursuing all lawful practices that meet that goal. We will continue working with you to raise the bar for inclusivity and work intentionally to better support students of color, because the inequities that exist in higher education access and outcomes remain unacceptable.”

Shortly after the court's ruling was made public, President Joe Biden said the nation's higher education institutions "should not abandon their commitment to ensure student bodies of diverse backgrounds and experience that reflect all of America," the Associated Press reports.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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