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The Biden administration, Massachusetts state officials, and local Cambridge leaders have condemned the Supreme Court’s decision to effectively ban affirmative action in higher education admissions.
In a 6-2 decision, the Court held that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies are unconstitutional as the culmination of a yearslong lawsuit by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions. The Court also ruled against the University of North Carolina’s admissions policies in a 6-3 decision.
In a Thursday address from the White House, President Joe Biden criticized the Court’s decision and argued for the importance of diversity on college campuses.
“I strongly, strongly disagree with the Court’s decision,” Biden said.
“I’ve always believed that one of the greatest strengths of America — you’re tired of hearing me say it — is our diversity,” he said. “I believe our colleges are stronger when they are racially diverse.”
Biden announced during the speech that he is directing the Department of Education to scrutinize practices that “expand privilege instead of opportunity,” including legacy admissions.
In a Thursday press release, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel A. Cardona called on leaders in higher education to continue their “commitment” to diversity.
“Your leadership and commitment to ensuring our educational institutions reflect the vast and rich diversity of our people are needed now more than ever,” he wrote.
In response to a question from a reporter, Biden took aim at the nation’s highest court.
“This is not a normal court,” he said.
Republican leaders, however, broadly expressed support for the Court’s decision, including a wide swath of the GOP presidential primary field. In a post to Truth Social, former President Donald Trump wrote that the decision marked “a great day for America.”
“Our greatest minds must be cherished and that’s what this wonderful day has brought. We’re going back to all merit-based—and that’s the way it should be!” the 2024 GOP frontrunner wrote.
Presidential candidate Vivek G. Ramaswamy ’07 also celebrated the end of affirmative action, which he referred to as “the single greatest form of institutional racism in America today” in a tweet.
Massachusetts elected officials have echoed Biden’s denunciation of the Court’s decision.
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) eviscerated the decision at a Thursday press conference in Boston.
“The Supreme Court of the United States is stomping on the dreams of our young people,” Markey said. “The Supreme Court majority may think that they are blind to race, but what they are truly blind to is inequality,” he added.
In a joint statement, more than 100 elected officials, leaders at higher education institutions, and organizers — including Massachusetts Governor Maura T. Healey ’92, Lieutenant Governor Kim L. Driscoll, and Attorney General Andrea J. Campbell — wrote that Massachusetts will “continue to break down barriers to higher education.”
“Today’s decision, while disappointing, will not change our commitment to these students. We have an imperative to make sure our schools reflect our communities,” they wrote.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu ’07 also condemned the “ultra conservative majority” of the Supreme Court for its decision.
“We fully reject the court’s worldview & recommit to the vital work of building a more just & equitable society for all our communities,” she wrote in a tweet.
Cambridge City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 said in an interview that the ruling would hinder diversity programs at Harvard and other Cambridge universities and could set a precedent for challenges to Cambridge’s equity initiatives.
“If you look at the work that the city is doing on a variety of equity issues, there are real policies that are looking at historical disparities and how we might remedy those,” he said. The ruling, he continued, means it will be “harder to make progress on some of the underlying racial inequities that we’re seeing.”
On May 8, Cambridge signed onto the Commonwealth Development Compact, an agreement tying public and private real estate development to diversity, equity, and inclusion criteria. Such criteria can include the involvement of minority-owned businesses and minority investors, which could soon be challenged on constitutional grounds.
Huang also expressed concern about how Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policies have treated Asian American applicants as a single broad category.
“I feel torn because, fundamentally, I think the ruling is flawed, and yet at the same time, I think that the admissions policy does need examination and critique,” he said. “I do think the administration is fairly aware of that.”
Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui was similarly disappointed at the decision.
“In Cambridge, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that all students, regardless of their background, feel empowered in our private and public institutions,” she wrote in a statement. “Following this decision, I understand it is crucial that we remain dedicated to dismantling barriers to higher education.”
In his address, Biden called for continued efforts to protect diversity on college campuses in spite of the Court’s decision.
“We cannot let the decision be a permanent setback for the country,” he said. “We need to keep an open door of opportunities.”
—Staff writer Samuel P. Goldston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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