Biden defends affirmative action use in college admissions after Supreme Court landmark ruling

The 6-3 decision forces institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

ByDevin Dwyer ABCNews logo
Friday, June 30, 2023
SCOTUS strikes down affirmative action in college admissions
The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated consideration of race as a factor in college admissions, setting new limits on affirmative action in higher ed. Sonia Rincon has more on the landmark decision.

President Joe Biden called on colleges to evaluate "adversity overcome" by applicants after the Supreme Court on Thursday set new limits on affirmative action programs in cases involving whether public and private colleges and universities can continue to use race as one factor among many in student admissions.

The court held, in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, that Harvard and UNC's admissions programs violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The vote was 6-3 in the UNC case and 6-2 in the Harvard case, due to the recusal of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jackson had served on the board of overseers at Harvard, where she earned her undergraduate and law degrees.

Harvard students Shruthi Kumar, left, and Muskaan Arshad, join a rally on affirmative action in college admissions, in Washington, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

Jackson joined the dissents of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in the two cases.

WATCH: Justice Sotomayor argues her opinion on new Affirmative Action ruling

Justice Sotomayor argues her opinion on the Supreme Court's Affirmative Action ruling.

Echoing the dissents, Biden said he "strongly, strongly" disagrees with the court's ruling. He urged colleges not to let the ruling "be the last word."

The 6-3 decision forces institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

"They should not abandon their commitment to ensure student bodies of diverse backgrounds and experience that reflect all of America," Biden said from the White House. He said colleges should evaluate "adversity overcome" by candidates.

The blockbuster cases put affirmative action, which has been used for decades by colleges and universities to address inequality and diversify their campuses, in the spotlight. The Supreme Court had repeatedly ruled since 1978 schools may consider the race of applicants in pursuing educational benefits from a diverse student body, so long as they did not use a quota system.

Jennifer Jones Austin, the CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, joins Eyewitness News to discuss the significance and consequences of the Supreme Court striking do

Students for Fair Admissions, a conservative group, sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina over their race-conscious admissions programs, alleging intentional discrimination toward Asian American applicants.The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the group in a decision that will have major ramifications for the college admissions process in the U.S.

Bunmi Omisore, a student at Duke University, and Alex Shieh, a prospective student at Brown University, react to the Supreme Court decision to gut affirmative action.

"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," Roberts wrote. "We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today."

"At the same time, as all parties agree, nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise," Roberts continued.

WATCH: Supreme Court's Affirmative Action ruling to take a toll on college admissions

The Supreme Court's Affirmative Action ruling will take a toll on college admissions

The court said that it has "permitted race-based admissions only within the confines of narrow restrictions. University programs must comply with strict scrutiny, they may never use race as a stereotype or negative, and -- at some point -- they must end."

The ruling appears to preserve consideration of race in a narrowly tailored way, as in through an applicant's essay.

Justice Sotomayor, in her dissent, said the court's decision "rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress."

"It holds that race can no longer be used in a limited way in college admissions to achieve such critical benefits," she wrote. "In so holding, the court cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter."

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.