Affirmative Action Decision Is a Setback for Economic Mobility and Racial Equity

The following statement can be attributed to Indivar Dutta-Gupta, president, and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Washington, D.C., June 29, 2023—Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn nearly 50 years of precedent—yet again—is ahistorical and harmful to building a multiracial and prosperous democracy. In SFFA v. UNC and Harvard, a 6-3 majority broadly struck down race-conscious higher education admissions as unconstitutional.

Among its many flaws, this ruling fails to appreciate the history of the Constitution’s 14th amendment. Its equal protection clause was widely understood to authorize—not restrict—the sort of race-conscious policies now being struck down.

Holistic, race-conscious admissions policies offer upward economic mobility for Black and brown communities. 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.”

Today’s decision will make the fight to end poverty in this country, which robs tens of millions of people of their potential, more challenging. Poverty affects a disproportionate share of people of color due to structural, systemic, and institutional racism, including at institutions of higher education. Higher education can be an effective path to economic security and upward social and economic mobility, but the Court today closes that path for many. Going forward, higher education institutions will do more to reproduce racial hierarchies and less to advance equal opportunity.

In turn, our nation’s potential for democratic stability and economic prosperity will be weakened. Sustaining those aims requires the richness that racial equity and diversity bring to higher education, which prepares the vast majority of those who hold significant economic and political power in our nation. Yet, these aims can be realized only by correcting past harms that will otherwise haunt us indefinitely. Because race-neutral efforts in a society rife with racial injustice will inevitably fall short of what our nation’s promises of equality demand, CLASP is committed to working with our partners to reverse the decision and advance effective race-conscious policies to build true unity and undo centuries of harm to communities of color.