US Supreme Court blocks college race-based admissions rules - what is affirmative action?

Anti-affirmative action campaigners were celebrating after the US Supreme Court overturned a decades long race-based admissions rule for educational institutions. (Credit: Getty Images)Anti-affirmative action campaigners were celebrating after the US Supreme Court overturned a decades long race-based admissions rule for educational institutions. (Credit: Getty Images)
Anti-affirmative action campaigners were celebrating after the US Supreme Court overturned a decades long race-based admissions rule for educational institutions. (Credit: Getty Images) | Getty Images
The race-based admission policy, which has been in place for decades, has been repealed following the Supreme Court's decision

The US Supreme Court has ruled that colleges and universities can no longer consider race as a factor when making admissions.

The ruling has overturned the 2003 Supreme Court case Grutter v Bollinger, which in turn upheld a similar 1976 ruling. It was ruled that race could be used as a factor when considering applications to educational institutions.

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The policy of affirmative actions was introduced to increase diversity in colleges and universities across the US.

Chief Justice John Roberts said that while the policies were "well intentioned", institutions had "for too long wrongly concluded that the touchstone of an individual's identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned, but the color of their skin."

President Joe Biden said that he "strongly" disagreed with the Supreme Court's decision to overhaul the law. He said: "We cannot let this decision be the last word. Discrimination still exists in America."

It comes after a series of controversial rulings made by the majority Republican-appointed Supreme Court. The repeal of the Roe v Wade abortion ruling gained international attention as abortion right was rolled back in several states.

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What was said about the Students for Fair Admissions v Harvard case?

The ruling was made over two cases - one involving Harvard University and the other involving the University of North Carolina. Students for Fair Admissions, a campaign group, had brought the case against both colleges.

The group argued to the court that the long-standing policy in Harvard University of affirmative action was in conflict with Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The act prohibits discrimination based on a number of characteristics, including race, in setting such as education.

Following the ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas, who has been a vocal supporter of scrapping affirmative action, said: "Universities' self-proclaimed righteousness does not afford them license to discriminate on the basis of race.

What is affirmative action?

Affirmative action is a policy that was employed by colleges which aimed to increase admissions to those from groups which have been regarded as disadvantaged or discriminated against. In most cases, this would manifest in the form of race, with a number of placements or special scholarships being offered to students of a specific race which has historically been disadvantaged.

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Other characteristics covered under the policy includes gender and sexuality.

In the US, it was widely used within college applications, and has also been used in some workplaces. However, hiring employees in the UK based purely on their protected characteristics is illegal.

Instead, an alternative approach, called 'positive action', is often implemented in the recruitment process. This tends to focus more on equal opportunities for all races and gender throughout the process, as well as some targeted advertising towards minority groups.

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