Selective Justice: The Supreme Court’s Unsettling Affirmative Action Ruling Draws a Dubious Line

The Supreme Court made a divisive ruling this past Thursday, barring Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) from implementing affirmative action and asserting that race can no longer be a determining factor in college admissions. However, the court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, interestingly carved out an exception for military academies.

Roberts contended that the admission programs at Harvard and UNC failed to align with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause, highlighting issues such as negative use of race, racial stereotyping, and lack of meaningful end goals. Yet, in an unexpected footnote, Roberts underscored that the court’s opinion does not apply to military academies, asserting that their unique interests necessitate a different approach.

This surprising exception stirred a wave of criticism from several leading Democrats, who expressed their dismay over the court’s decision. Senator Cory Booker, Rep. Cory Bush, Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, and former First Lady Michelle Obama were among the high-profile voices that condemned the ruling.

But it was Rep. Jason Crow who zeroed in on the court’s exemption for military academies, denouncing the decision as “deeply upsetting” and “grotesque.” He tweeted his critique, noting the court’s paradoxical stance: declaring diversity irrelevant except in the context of who fights and dies for the country. This, according to Crow, perpetuates the disturbing idea that marginalized communities can sacrifice for America without enjoying full participation in all other aspects of American life.

Meanwhile, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor provided a powerful counter-argument in her dissent, pointing out the inherent contradiction in the ruling. Sotomayor asserted that while the majority of the court acknowledges the crucial need for diversity in the military, they simultaneously prohibit race-conscious college admissions at civilian universities, thus “highlighting the arbitrariness” of the decision.

In essence, this ruling shines a spotlight on the enduring and complex debate over the role of race in college admissions, a conversation that goes beyond courtrooms and impacts the lives of students across the country. The question remains: How can we ensure equal access to education for all, while maintaining a diverse and inclusive academic environment? And importantly, why should the rules change when it comes to the military?