End of positive discrimination in American universities

The very conservative Supreme Court of the United States on Thursday put an end to affirmative action programs at the university, a new historic U-turn a year after its reversal on abortion. Its six conservative magistrates judged, against the opinion of the three progressives, unconstitutional the procedures of admission on the campuses taking into account the color of the skin or the ethnic origin of the candidates.

Many universities “wrongly considered that the basis of a person’s identity was not his or her probation, skills acquired or lessons learned, but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not condone this,” Magistrate John Roberts wrote on behalf of the majority. “In other words, the student should be treated on the basis of their individual experiences, but not on racial criteria,” he adds.

“Reverse Racism”

Several highly selective universities had introduced racial and ethnic criteria in their admissions procedure in the late 1960s to correct inequalities stemming from the segregationist past of the United States and to increase the share of black, Hispanic or Native American students in their numbers. These policies, known as “positive discrimination”, have always been highly criticized in conservative circles, who consider them opaque and see them as “reverse racism”.

Referred to on several occasions since 1978, the Supreme Court had prohibited quotas, but had always authorized universities to take into account, among other things, racial criteria. Until now, she considered “legitimate” the search for greater diversity on campuses, even if it means violating the principle of equality between all American citizens.

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Thursday, the progressive magistrates were deeply moved by this volte-face. The Court “looks back on decades of jurisprudence and immense progress”, wrote, on their behalf, Judge Sonia Sotomayor. It “cements an artificial rule of indifference to skin color as a constitutional principle in a deeply segregated society, where the racial question has always been important and will continue to be”, she asserts again.

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