A Landmark Victory for Merit

Kali Jerrard

CounterCurrent: Week of 7/3/23


The waves made last week by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College still haven’t subsided, nor will they for quite some time. Though the ruling is shrouded in controversy, we at the National Association of Scholars (NAS) are celebrating this decision as a step in the right direction for American higher education.

If you missed it, the Court ruled last Thursday that “Harvard’s and UNC’s admissions programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” This opinion consolidated two cases: Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina (UNC) et al. This landmark 6-3 decision comes after nearly a decade of court cases, as Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) originally brought the suit against Harvard in 2014. The NAS took an active role by filing amicus briefs in support of SFFA in 2018, 2020, and again in 2022, along with writing numerous articles and reports on the subject. The crux of the issue? SFFA alleged that Harvard used its holistic admissions process to limit the admission of Asian students—a clear use of racial discrimination by the university’s administration. Here’s the main takeaway

The Court’s decision made clear that Harvard’s and UNC’s reliance on racial preferences was too broad. The two schools attempted to obfuscate unconstitutional policies and, when confronted, defend the use of race by any means necessary. As the Court notes, when faced with criticism of how to quantify diversity’s benefit and draw connections between the use of racial preferences and the institutions’ goals, the schools’ answer was, “‘trust us.’”

The NAS has a long history of opposing racial preferences in higher education. Since 1987, we’ve advocated against the use of affirmative action and racial preferences in college admissions through reports, projects, and policy. As NAS President Peter Wood states, “students should be admitted to colleges and universities on the basis of individual talent and character—for academic achievement, proven ability, ambition, and a commitment to learning.” This sentiment holds true now as much as it did in 1987. 

Even with this progress, we must stay vigilant. Race-essentialist policymakers and colleges and universities will attempt to find loopholes in this case in the days to come (as many have threatened to do already). But as Peter Wood noted in an article for The Spectator, because the Court rested its opinion explicitly on “the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, not on the Civil Rights Act, any other legislation or any executive orders,” this ruling “means it is constitutional law—and cannot be undone by Congress or overruled by a president who ‘strongly disagrees’ with it.” This was a smart decision by the majority. However, we will be closely watching for any abuse of loopholes or attempts to nullify the Court’s decision.  

It’s been a long fight to restore merit over racial preferences in college admissions, and though this ruling is a step in the right direction, there is still a long road ahead. Though we at the NAS celebrate the Court’s ruling, a careful consideration and thorough reading of the case is also critical (this is a dense, 237-page decision, after all—a quick judgment or opinion benefits no one). There is more to discuss in light of this ruling over the days, weeks, and months ahead, and we look forward to unpacking this decision and what it means for higher education with you.

Until next week.


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by the NAS Staff. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

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