Claire Jean Kim

“Affirmative action in U.S. higher education is dead. Last month, the Supreme Court, ignoring a half-century of precedents, struck down race-conscious admissions at both Harvard and the University of North Carolina, finding that they violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Over the past five decades, race-conscious admissions programs in higher education, which have been narrowly affirmed by the Court on three occasions, have helped to partially desegregate colleges and universities, increase educational and employment opportunities for students of color, and grow the non-white middle-class. They have also been a special target of the right. So when President Trump appointed three conservative justices in rapid succession, affirmative action supporters feared the worst. On June 29, 2023, the Court delivered the expected coup de grâce with a 6-3 ruling in favor of Students for Fair Admissions, the plaintiff. It is now up to colleges and universities across the nation to figure out what the ruling means for them.

Postmortem analyses have focused on what the ruling tells us about the Court’s rightward turn and concurrent trends in national politics. Undoubtedly, the ruling marks another stunning victory for white conservative legal strategist Edward Blum and his deep-pocketed donors, the same team that brought us Shelby County v. Holder (2013), in which the Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. What has been missing from these discussions is an analysis of what Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard tells us about American racial politics, past and present. The case in fact serves as a window onto deep structures of racial power that persist beneath surface-level political trends.” 

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