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Obamas condemn Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action

Michelle Obama said that the decision to strike down race-based affirmative action in college admissions “breaks her heart” thinking about the future of students, reports Asian Lite News

The US Supreme Court on Thursday struck down race-based admission programs at the University of Harvard and the University of North Carolina, The Washington Post reported.

This comes amid reports of the university’s policies discriminating against White and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American ones. In a 6-3 judgement, the apex court gutted affirmative action in college admissions, that use race as a factor.

The majority voting judges included Chief Justice John G Roberts, Amy Coney Barrett, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

“The student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual–not on the basis of race,” Chief Justice John G Roberts said in the ruling while writing 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 challenged bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the colour of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice,” the order stated.

Roberts said the admissions programs at Harvard and UNC “lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful endpoints.”

“University programs must comply with strict scrutiny, they may never use race as a stereotype or negative, and — at some point — they must end,” he wrote.

In a dissenting stand, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in defence that “equal educational opportunity” is a “prerequisite” to achieving racial equality in our nation.

“Today, this Court stands in the way and 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. In so holding, the Court cements a superficial rule of colourblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter,” she said in the ruling.

Along with Sotomayor, Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson also dissented against the ruling. However, Jackson recused herself from the Harvard case because she served on a board at the university, The Post reported.

In the North Carolina case, Students for Fair Admissions alleged that the flagship university’s policies discriminated against White and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic and Native American ones, The Post reported.

On the other hand, the case against Harvard accused the university of discriminating against Asian American students by employing subjective standards to limit the numbers accepted.

Notably, the issue of affirmative action has long been a matter of debate in the US.

As recently as 2016, the court upheld an affirmative action program at the University of Texas, concluding for the third time that educational diversity justifies the consideration of race as one factor in admission decisions.

The ruling has also drawn reactions from the political circles, and contrary from both sides.

Former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama expressed disappointment at the apex court’s ruling to gut affirmative action from college admissions.

“Like any policy, affirmative action wasn’t perfect. But it allowed generations of students like Michelle and me to prove we belonged. Now it’s up to all of us to give young people the opportunities they deserve — and help students everywhere benefit from new perspectives,” Obama said in a succinct statement, also providing links to various organizations focused on equality in education.

Expressing disappointment, former first lady Michelle Obama in a lengthier statement recalled being one of the few black students in her college.

In a lengthier statement, the former first lady took a more personal tone.

“Back in college, I was one of the few Black students on my campus, and I was proud of getting into such a respected school. I knew I’d worked hard for it. But still, I sometimes wondered if people thought I got there because of affirmative action. It was a shadow that students like me couldn’t shake, whether those doubts came from the outside or inside our own minds,” she said.

“But the fact is this: I belonged. And semester after semester, decade after decade, for more than half a century, countless students like me showed they belonged, too. It wasn’t just the kids of colour who benefitted, either. Every student who heard a perspective they might not have encountered, who had an assumption challenged, and who had their minds and their hearts opened gained a lot as well. It wasn’t perfect, but there’s no doubt that it helped offer new ladders of opportunity for those who, throughout our history, have too often been denied a chance to show how fast they can climb,” she further said.

Michelle Obama said that those students who get accepted into universities due to legacy, athletics and resources are not questioned in the same way.

“So often, we just accept that money, power, and privilege are perfectly justifiable forms of affirmative action, while kids growing up like I did are expected to compete when the ground is anything but level,” she said.

She further added that the decision “breaks her heart” thinking about the future of students.

“So today, my heart breaks for any young person out there who’s wondering what their future holds — and what kinds of chances will be open to them. And while I know the strength and grit that lies inside kids who have always had to sweat a little more to climb the same ladders, I hope and I pray that the rest of us are willing to sweat a little, too. Today is a reminder that we’ve got to do the work not just to enact policies that reflect our values of equity and fairness, but to truly make those values real in all of our schools, workplaces, and neighbourhoods,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, former President and 2024 contender Donald Trump hailed the SC ruling, calling it a “great day” for the nation, adding that it will “keep us competitive with the rest of the world”.

“This is a great day for America. People with extraordinary ability and everything else necessary for success, including future greatness for our country, are finally being rewarded. This is the ruling everyone was waiting and hoping for and the result was amazing. It will also keep us competitive with the rest of the world. Our greatest minds must be cherished and that’s what this wonderful day has brought. We’re going back to all merit-based–and that’s the way it should be!” CNN quoted the former President.

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy also hailed the court’s ruling, saying that the justices “just ruled that no American should be denied educational opportunities because of race.”

Taking to Twitter, McCarthy said, “The Supreme Court just ruled that no American should be denied educational opportunities because of race. Now students will be able to compete based on equal standards and individual merit. This will make the college admissions process fairer and uphold equality under the law”.

The Biden administration – from the White House to the Department of Education – is also reviewing the affirmative action decision from the Supreme Court, CNN reported citing an administration official.

President Joe Biden last spoke about the pending case in November, when he said he urged his Justice Department to “defend the present policy before the Supreme Court”. (ANI)