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U.S. Supreme Court Stikes Down Affirmative Action

A Message From Dean Michael A. Simons About The Supreme Court's Opinion Striking Down Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court today found the admission systems used by Harvard College and the University of North Carolina to be unconstitutional. In doing so, the Court rejected the central holding of Grutter v. Bollinger, that “student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.” While today’s result is disappointing to all who believe in the benefits of diversity in educational settings, it is important to recognize what the Court’s ruling does not do.

First, the Court’s holding does not—contrary to some expectations—require a “colorblind” admissions process. Indeed, implicitly recognizing the central role that race and racism play in our society, the Court specifically approved the consideration of “how race affected [an applicant’s] life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.” At St. John’s, our admissions process considers each applicant as an individual and will continue to do so, including considering how race and racism have shaped their unique ability to contribute to our educational community and to the legal profession. 

Second, the Court’s holding does not require an educational institution to turn away from a commitment to diversity—an educational value the Court recognizes as “plainly worthy.” At St. John’s Law, we are committed to supporting each of our students, recognizing the diverse ways in which their backgrounds and lived experiences can impact the learning experience. We are also committed to an educational environment in which all voices are heard, especially those that have too often been marginalized in the law and the legal profession. Today’s Supreme Court ruling does nothing to lessen those commitments.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder just three years ago, we committed ourselves as a community to being antiracist. That commitment is rooted in the recognition that racism and its effects continue to impact lives and shape institutions, including St. John’s Law. And that means we—as educators and institution builders—have an affirmative obligation to work against racism and its ongoing legacies. I have been heartened by our community’s commitment to that work in recent years, and I look forward to continuing it.

Michael A.Simons
Dean and John V. Brennan Professor of Law and Ethics

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