By Ethan Su, School Project Director
In a controversial ruling by the Supreme Court on June 29th, 2023, the Court struck down Affirmative Action (AA), stating that the admissions programs used by the University of North Carolina and Harvard College violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment; The equal protection clause states “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Executive Order 10625, signed by President Kennedy, was the beginning of AA. The Executive Order stated that the government should take action “to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin.” Affirmative Action does this by requiring institutions to meet hiring quotas and provide scholarships and grants to minorities. Institutes that fail to follow AA can lose funding or contracts.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, commented on the diversity quotas of UNC and Harvard’s freshman class, saying “Those policies fly in the face of our colorblind Constitution and our Nation’s equality ideal. In short, they are plainly — and boldly — unconstitutional.” He thinks Affirmative action favors certain groups based on their race which abridges the privileges of citizens of the United States.
In my opinion, the strongest argument against AA is, strictly speaking, AA does violate the equal protection clause. However, that doesn’t mean AA shouldn’t be in place. In Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s dissent, she wrote “Deeming race irrelevant in law doesn’t make it so in life.” Even though the Constitution strives to provide equality for everyone, it doesn’t consider that everyone benefits differently from the same support.
I think the most important reason to keep affirmative action is diversity. Affirmative action prioritizes diversity in the workplace and education. A study by the Department of Internal Medicine found that empathy levels were increased in people who listened to people from different walks of life and their experiences of hardships, experiences, and triumphs. That is precisely what diversity brings to an organization. Diversity brings in people from all walks of life to improve the community. California, where AA has been banned for almost 30 years has seen a decline in diversity enrolment at their top schools. According to a study done in 2020 by Zachary Bleemer, an economist at Princeton, Black, and Latino enrollment fell by 40% at UCLA and UC Berkeley for the class of 98’. Racial diversity has fallen Without Affirmative action, limiting community empathy.
I believe understanding other people’s perspectives is critical to undoing the systemic barriers in this country. By having empathy in leadership, the decisions made for the government can consider Americans’ diverse experiences. Although not perfect, policies like AA can work towards justice so we can live in a country that doesn’t provide everyone with the same support but gives everyone the same amount of our unalienable rights: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.