Read Dissenting Opinions from Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson as US Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action

Read Dissenting Opinions from Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson as US Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action

Washington,  CBS June 29, 2023 - — The United States Supreme Court today issued a landmark decision along a strict 6-3 conservative line, rejecting affirmative action in higher education which has prompted sharp and stinging dissents from two members of the court's liberal wing, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

In the highly anticipated ruling, the court's conservative majority invalidated the race-conscious admissions programs at Harvard College, the nation's oldest private school, and the University of North Carolina, the oldest public school, finding they were unconstitutional. 

The court's rejection of affirmative action in college admissions is likely to reshape how higher education institutions across the country consider applicants, as colleges and universities can no longer use race as a factor in their admissions' decisions. 

Chief Justice John Roberts, who authored the majority opinion, said universities can, however, consider a students' discussion of how race affected his or her life, such as in application essays.

The Supreme Court split along ideological lines in the two cases involving Harvard and the University of North Carolina, though Jackson took no part in the consideration of the dispute involving Harvard.

She and Sotomayor, who read her opinion allowed from the bench, did not mince words in criticizing the decision from the Supreme Court's six-justice conservative majority.

"With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces 'colorblindness for all' by legal fiat," Jackson wrote. "But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life."

Sotomayor, in a 69-page dissent in a case against Harvard, characterized the court's ruling as one that “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.”

In deciding “that race can no longer be used in a limited way in college admissions,” the court effectively “cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter,” Sotomayor wrote.

"The Court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society," Sotomayor added. "Because the Court’s opinion is not grounded in law or fact and contravenes the vision of equality embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment, I dissent."

Sotomayor concluded her dissent with the following remarks.

"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," she wrote. "Despite the Court’s unjustified exercise of power, the opinion today will serve only to highlight the Court’s own impotence in the face of an America whose cries for equality resound."

Sotomayor, the third woman and the first Latina member of the court, has described herself as a “perfect affirmative action baby.”

Born to a Puerto Rican family, Sotomayor grew up in a public housing project in the South Bronx. Her mother instilled in her a belief in the power of education, the justice has said.

As Sotomayor has detailed in her memoir, she excelled in school as a child while also managing a diagnosis of juvenile diabetes and other challenges. After graduating high school as valedictorian, she attended Princeton University and Yale Law School.

Jackson, the first Black woman on the court, in a separate 29-page dissent in the UNC case, said "Our country has never been colorblind.”

In a rather contentious and lengthy footnote from her dissent, Jackson said the Thomas opinion asks American society to continue to ignore "the elephant in the room — the race-linked disparities that continue to impede achievement of our great Nation’s full potential."

By insisting that obvious truths about racial inequality be ignored, Jackson said, the court's majority is preventing "our problem-solving institutions from directly addressing the real import and impact of 'social racism' and 'government-imposed racism,'" using phrases from Thomas' opinion.

Like Sotomayor, Jackson excelled in high school and went on to attend elite schools known to be highly selective in the admissions process.

Jackson graduated from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and Harvard Law School

Read the full dissents from Sotomayor and Jackson, whose dissent begins on page 70 below:


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