End of Affirmative Action could create tensions among Asian American, Black, Hispanic students

By Mayank Chhaya-


The U.S. Supreme Court’s historic, albeit stunning, decision effectively ending affirmative action in the country’s colleges has the potential to create tensions between Asian American students on the one side and Black and Hispanic students on the other.

Although affirmative action has traditionally been viewed as a fault line between white and Black students, in the particular case before the court targeting Harvard University, the conservative plaintiffs challenging race-conscious admissions, argued that they discriminated against Asian Americans.

While many Asian American student advocacy groups disagree with the core of the argument that eventually led to the Supreme Court handing down a stunning 6-3 ruling, the fact that as a group, Asian Americans played a significant role in the overturning could be problematic at the societal level.

According to a June 8, 2023, report by the Pew Research Center, Asian American students have “mixed views” about affirmative action. “On one hand, about half of Asian adults who have heard of affirmative action (53%) say it is a good thing, while 19% say it is a bad thing, and 27% say they don’t know whether affirmative action is good or bad. On the other hand, about three-quarters of all Asian adults (76%) say race or ethnicity should not factor into college admissions decisions,” the Pew report said.

“Indian adults (60%) are more likely than Korean (50%), Vietnamese (48%) and Chinese (45%) adults to say affirmative action is a good thing,” the report said.

“Assessments of affirmative action differ among Asian immigrants by their origins. Chinese immigrants who have heard the phrase (33%) are more likely to say affirmative action is a bad thing than Vietnamese (21%), Korean (21%), Filipino (18%) and Indian (12%) immigrants,” Pew said.

The court verdict has come along the expected conservative versus liberal lines. The case stemmed from two challenges against race-based admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (U.N.C).

Writing for the majority opinion Chief Justice John. G. Roberts articulated a position he has maintained for decades. “The Harvard and U.N.C. admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause. Both programs 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. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today,” Roberts said.

With that the Supreme Court has ended 45 years of colleges’ ability to ensure diversity in student admissions. “I believe our colleges are stronger, when they are racially diverse,” President Joe Biden said in a special address soon after the decision. He said he agreed with the dissent by the three liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“We cannot let this decision be the last word,” Biden said. “They (colleges) should not abandon their commitment to ensure student bodies of diverse backgrounds that reflect all of America,” he said. He also said he would direct the Education Department “to analyze what practices can build a more inclusive and diverse” student body.

The dissenting language from both Sotomayor and Jackson, the latter having recused herself from the Harvard case because she was a member Harvard’s Board of Overseers, was extraordinarily sharp.

Justice Sotomayor wrote the decision “subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society.”

“Today, this Court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress,” she wrote, adding that the decision “cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.”

She argued that the majority’s vision of race neutrality “will entrench racial segregation in higher education because racial inequality will persist so long as it is ignored.”

Justice Sotomayor did add a hopeful and defiant note saying despite the court’s actions, “society’s progress toward equality cannot be permanently halted.”

“The pursuit of racial diversity will go on,” she wrote. “Although the Court has stripped out almost all uses of race in college admissions, universities can and should continue to use all available tools to meet society’s needs for diversity in education.”

Justice Jackson, said in her dissent that “it would be deeply unfortunate if the Equal Protection Clause actually demanded this perverse, ahistorical, and counterproductive outcome.”

“To impose this result in that Clause’s name when it requires no such thing, and to thereby obstruct our collective progress toward the full realization of the Clause’s promise, is truly a tragedy for us all,” she wrote.

She wrote that the majority concluded that “racial diversity in higher education is only worth potentially preserving insofar as it might be needed to prepare Black Americans and other underrepresented minorities for success in the bunker, not the boardroom.”

The landmark case was filed by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) arguing that Harvard College, which is a private college, discriminated against Asian American applicants who, in its judgment, were less likely to be admitted than White, Black and Hispanic applicants with similar qualifications. The same group had also sued the U.N.C., a public university, over their race-conscious admissions policies.

However, some Asian American civil rights organizations such as the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) had filed briefs in support of race-conscious admissions.




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