STUDENTS FOR FAIR ADMISSIONS, INC. v. PRESIDENT AND FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE Decided June 29, 2023
“I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”
JUSTICE THOMAS, concurring.
In the wake of the Civil War, the country focused its attention on restoring the Union and establishing the legal status of newly freed slaves. The Constitution was amended to abolish slavery and proclaim that all persons born in the United States are citizens, entitled to the privileges or immunities of citizenship and the equal protection of the laws. Amdts. 13, 14. Because of that second founding, “[o]ur Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U. S. 537, 559 (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting).
This Court’s commitment to that equality principle has ebbed and flowed over time. After forsaking the principle for decades, offering a judicial imprimatur to segregation and ushering in the Jim Crow era, the Court finally corrected course in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U. S. 483 (1954), announcing that primary schools must either desegregate with all deliberate speed or else close their doors. See also Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U. S. 294 (1955) (Brown II ). It then pulled back in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 306 (2003), permitting universities to discriminate based on race in their admissions process (though only temporarily) in order to achieve alleged “educational benefits of diversity.” Id., at 319. Yet, the Constitution continues to embody a simple truth: Two discriminatory wrongs cannot make a right.
I wrote separately in Grutter, explaining that the use of race in higher education admissions decisions—regardless of whether intended to help or to hurt—violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Id., at 351 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). In the decades since, I have repeatedly stated that Grutter was wrongly decided and should be overruled. Fisher v. University of Tex. at Austin, 570 U. S. 297, 315, 328 (2013) (concurring opinion) (Fisher I ); Fisher v. University of Tex. at Austin, 579 U. S. 365, 389 (2016) (dissenting opinion).
Today, and despite a lengthy interregnum, the Constitution prevails.
Because the Court today applies genuine strict scrutiny to the race-conscious admissions policies employed at Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC) and finds that they fail that searching review, I join the majority opinion in full.
I write separately to offer an originalist defense of the colorblind Constitution; to explain further the flaws of the Court’s Grutter jurisprudence; to clarify that all forms of discrimination based on race—including so-called affirmative action—are prohibited under the Constitution; and to emphasize the pernicious effects of all such discrimination.
In the 1860s, Congress proposed and the States ratified the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. And, with the authority conferred by these Amendments, Congress passed two landmark Civil Rights Acts. Throughout the debates on each of these measures, their proponents repeatedly affirmed their view of equal citizenship and the racial equality that flows from it. In fact, they held this principle so deeply that their crowning accomplishment—the Fourteenth Amendment—ensures racial equality with no textual reference to race whatsoever. The history of these measures’ enactment renders their motivating principle as clear as their text: All citizens of the United States, regardless of skin color, are equal before the law. I do not contend that all of the individuals who put forth and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment universally believed this to be true. Some Members of the proposing Congress, for example, opposed the Amendment. And, the historical record—particularly with respect to the debates on ratification in the States—is sparse. Nonetheless, substantial evidence suggests that the Fourteenth Amendment was passed to “establis[h] the broad constitutional principle of full and complete equality of all persons under the law,” forbidding “all legal distinctions based on race or color.” Supp.Brief for United States on Reargument in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1953, No. 1 etc., p. 115 (U. S. Brown Reargument Brief). This was Justice Harlan’s view in his lone dissent in Plessy, where he observed that “[o]ur Constitution is colorblind.” 163 U. S., at 559. It was the view of the Court in Brown, which rejected “‘any authority . . . to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities.’” Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 551 U. S. 701, 747 (2007). And, it is the view adopted in the Court’s opinion today, requiring “the absolute equality of all citizens” under the law. Ante, at 10 (internal quotation marks omitted).
A — In its 1864 election platform, the Republican Party pledged to amend the Constitution to accomplish the “utter and complete extirpation” of slavery from “the soil of the Republic.” A. Schlesinger, History of U. S. Political Parties 1860–1910, p. 1303 (1973). After their landslide victory, Republicans quickly moved to make good on that promise. Congress proposed what would become the Thirteenth Amendment to the States in January 1865, and it was ratified as part of the Constitution later that year. The new Amendment stated that “[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist” in the United States “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” §1. It thus not only prohibited States from themselves enslaving persons, but also obligated them to end enslavement by private individuals within their borders. Its Framers viewed the text broadly, arguing that it “allowed Congress to legislate not merely against slavery itself, but against all the badges and relics of a slave system.” A. Amar, America’s Constitution: A Biography 362(2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Amendment also authorized “Congress . . . to enforce” its terms “by appropriate legislation”—authority not granted in any prior Amendment. §2. Proponents believed this enforcement clause permitted legislative measures designed to accomplish the Amendment’s broader goal of equality for the freedmen.
It quickly became clear, however, that further amendment would be necessary to safeguard that goal. Soon after the Thirteenth Amendment’s adoption, the reconstructed Southern States began to enact “Black Codes,” which circumscribed the newly won freedoms of blacks. The Black Code of Mississippi, for example, “imposed all sorts of disabilities” on blacks, “including limiting their freedom of
movement and barring them from following certain occupations, owning firearms, serving on juries, testifying in cases involving whites, or voting.” E. Foner, The Second Founding 48 (2019).
Congress responded with the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27, in an attempt to pre-empt the Black Codes. The 1866 Act promised such a sweeping form of equality that it would lead many to say that it exceeded the scope of Congress’ authority under the Thirteenth Amendment. As enacted, it stated:
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States; and such citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall have the same right, in every State and Territory in the United States, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, and give evidence, to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property, and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, and penalties, and to none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, to the contrary notwithstanding.”
The text of the provision left no doubt as to its aim: All persons born in the United States were equal citizens entitled to the same rights and subject to the same penalties as white citizens in the categories enumerated. See M. McConnell, Originalism and the Desegregation Decisions,81 Va. L. Rev. 947, 958 (1995) (“Note that the bill neither forbade racial discrimination generally nor did it guarantee particular rights to all persons. Rather, it required an equality in certain specific rights”). And, while the 1866 Act used the rights of “white citizens” as a benchmark, its rule was decidedly colorblind, safeguarding legal equality for all citizens “of every race and color” and providing the same rights to all.
The 1866 Act’s evolution further highlights its rule of equality. To start, Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393 (1857), had previously held that blacks “were not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government “and “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Id., at 407, 411. The Act, however, would effectively overrule Dred Scott and ensure the equality that had been promised to blacks. But the Act went further still. On January 29, 1866, Senator Lyman Trumbull, the bill’s principal sponsor in the Senate, proposed text stating that “all persons of African descent born in the United States are hereby declared to be citizens.” Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 474. The following day, Trumbull revised his proposal, removing the reference to “African descent” and declaring more broadly that “all persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign Power,” are “citizens of the United States.” Id., at 498.
“In the years before the Fourteenth Amendment’s adoption, jurists and legislators often connected citizenship with equality,” where “the absence or presence of one entailed the absence or presence of the other.” United States v. Vaello Madero, 596 U. S. ___, ___ (2022) (THOMAS, J., concurring) (slip op., at 6). The addition of a citizenship guarantee thus evidenced an intent to broaden the provision, extending beyond recently freed blacks and incorporating a more general view of equality for all Americans. Indeed, the drafters later included a specific carveout for “Indians not taxed,” demonstrating the breadth of the bill’s otherwise general citizenship language. 14 Stat. 27.1 As Trumbull explained, the provision created a bond between all Americans; “any statute which is not equal to all, and which deprives any citizen of civil rights which are secured to other citizens,” was “an unjust encroachment upon his liberty” and a “badge of servitude” prohibited by the Constitution. Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., at 474 (emphasis added).
Trumbull and most of the Act’s other supporters identified the Thirteenth Amendment as a principal source of constitutional authority for the Act’s nondiscrimination provisions. See, e.g., id., at 475 (statement of Sen. Trumbull); id., at 1152 (statement of Rep. Thayer); id., at 503–504 (statement of Sen. Howard). In particular, they explained that the Thirteenth Amendment allowed Congress not merely to legislate against slavery itself, but also to counter measures “which depriv[e] any citizen of civil rights which are secured to other citizens.” Id., at 474.
But opponents argued that Congress’ authority did not sweep so broadly. President Andrew Johnson, for example, contended that Congress lacked authority to pass the measure, seizing on the breadth of the citizenship text and emphasizing state authority over matters of state citizenship. See S. Doc. No. 31, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 1, 6 (1866) (Johnson veto message). Consequently, “doubts about the constitutional authority conferred by that measure led supporters to supplement their Thirteenth Amendment arguments with other sources of constitutional authority.” R. Williams, Originalism and the Other Desegregation Decision, 99 Va. L. Rev. 493, 532–533 (2013) (describing appeals to the naturalization power and the inherent power to protect
- 1. In fact, Indians would not be considered citizens until several decades later. Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, ch. 233, 43 Stat. 253 (declaring that all Indians born in the United States are citizens).
the rights of citizens). As debates continued, it became increasingly apparent that safeguarding the 1866 Act, including its promise of black citizenship and the equal rights that citizenship entailed, would require further submission to the people of the United States in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment. See, e.g., Cong. Globe, 39thCong., 1st Sess., at 498 (statement of Sen. Van Winkle).
B — Critically, many of those who believed that Congress lacked the authority to enact the 1866 Act also supported the principle of racial equality. So, almost immediately following the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, several proposals for further amendments were submitted in Congress. One such proposal, approved by the Joint Committee on Reconstruction and then submitted to the House of Representatives on February 26, 1866, would have declared that “[t]he Congress shall have power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper to secure to the citizens of each State all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States, and to all persons in the several States equal protection in the rights of life, liberty, and property.” Id., 1033–1034. Representative John Bingham, its drafter, was among those who believed Congress lacked the power to enact the 1866 Act. See id., at 1291. Specifically, he believed the “very letter of the Constitution” already required equality, but the enforcement of that requirement “is of the reserved powers of the States.” Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., at 1034, 1291 (statement of Rep. Bingham). His proposed constitutional amendment accordingly would provide a clear constitutional basis for the 1866 Act and ensure that future Congresses would be unable to repeal it. See W. Nelson, The Fourteenth Amendment 48–49 (1988). Discussion of Bingham’s initial draft was later postponed in the House, but the Joint Committee on Reconstruction continued its work. See 2 K. Lash, The Reconstruction Amendments 8 (2021). In April, Representative Thaddeus Stevens proposed to the Joint Committee an amendment that began, “[n]o discrimination shall be made by any State nor by the United States as to the civil rights of persons because of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” S. Doc. No. 711, 63d Cong., 1st Sess., 31–32 (1915) (reprinting the Journal of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction for the Thirty-Ninth Congress). Stevens’ proposal was later revised to read as follows: “ ‘No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’” Id., at 39. This revised text was submitted to the full House on April 30, 1866. Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., at 2286–2287. Like the eventual first section of the Fourteenth Amendment, this proposal embodied the familiar Privileges or Immunities, Due Process, and Equal Protection Clauses. And, importantly, it also featured an enforcement clause—with text borrowed from the Thirteenth Amendment—conferring upon Congress the power to enforce its provisions. Ibid.
Stevens explained that the draft was intended to “allo[w] Congress to correct the unjust legislation of the States, so far that the law which operates upon one man shall operate equally upon all.” Id., at 2459. Moreover, Stevens’ later statements indicate that he did not believe there was a difference “in substance between the new proposal and” earlier measures calling for impartial and equal treatment without regard to race. U. S. Brown Reargument Brief 44(noting a distinction only with respect to a suffrage provision). And, Bingham argued that the need for the proposed text was “one of the lessons that have been taught . . . by the history of the past four years of terrific conflict” during the Civil War. Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., at 2542. The proposal passed the House by a vote of 128 to 37. Id., at 2545.
Senator Jacob Howard introduced the proposed Amendment in the Senate, powerfully asking, “Ought not the time to be now passed when one measure of justice is to be meted out to a member of one caste while another and a different measure is meted out to the member of another caste, both castes being alike citizens of the United States, both bound to obey the same laws, to sustain the burdens of the same Government, and both equally responsible to justice and to God for the deeds done in the body?” Id., at 2766. In keeping with this view, he proposed an introductory sentence, declaring that “‘all persons born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the States wherein they reside.’” Id., at 2869. This text, the Citizenship Clause, was the final missing element of what would ultimately become §1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Howard’s draft for the proposed citizenship text was modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1866’s text, and he suggested the alternative language to “remov[e] all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States,” a question which had “long been a great desideratum in the jurisprudence and legislation of this country.” Id., at 2890. He further characterized the addition as “simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already.” Ibid.
The proposal was approved in the Senate by a vote of 33 to 11. Id., at 3042. The House then reconciled differences between the two measures, approving the Senate’s changes by a vote of 120 to 32. See id., 3149. And, in June 1866, the amendment was submitted to the States for their consideration and ratification. Two years later, it was ratified by the requisite number of States and became the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. See 15 Stat. 706–707; id., at 709–711. Its opening words instilled in our Nation’s Constitution a new birth of freedom:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” §1.
As enacted, the text of the Fourteenth Amendment provides a firm statement of equality before the law. It begins by guaranteeing citizenship status, invoking the “longstanding political and legal tradition that closely associated the status of citizenship with the entitlement to legal equality.” Vaello Madero, 596 U. S., at ___ (THOMAS, J., concurring) (slip op., at 6) (internal quotation marks omitted). It then confirms that States may not “abridge the rights of national citizenship, including whatever civil equality is guaranteed to ‘citizens’ under the Citizenship Clause.” Id., at ___, n. 3 (slip op., at 13, n. 3). Finally, it pledges that even noncitizens must be treated equally “as individuals, and not as members of racial, ethnic, or religious groups.” Missouri v. Jenkins, 515 U. S. 70, 120–121 (1995) (THOMAS, J., concurring).
The drafters and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment focused on this broad equality idea, offering surprisingly little explanation of which term was intended to accomplish which part of the Amendment’s overall goal. “The available materials . . . show,” however, “that there were widespread expressions of a general understanding of the broad scope of the Amendment similar to that abundantly demonstrated in the Congressional debates, namely, that the first section of the Amendment would establish the full constitutional right of all persons to equality before the law and would prohibit legal distinctions based on race or color.”
- S. Brown Reargument Brief 65 (citation omitted). For example, the Pennsylvania debate suggests that the Fourteenth Amendment was understood to make the law “what justice is represented to be, blind” to the “color of [one’s] skin.” App. to Pa. Leg. Record XLVIII (1867) (Rep. Mann).
The most commonly held view today—consistent with the rationale repeatedly invoked during the congressional debates, see, e.g., Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., at 2458–2469—is that the Amendment was designed to remove any doubts regarding Congress’ authority to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and to establish a nondiscrimination rule that could not be repealed by future Congresses. See, e.g., J. Harrison, Reconstructing the Privileges or Immunities Clause, 101 Yale L. J. 1385, 1388 (1992) (noting that the “primary purpose” of the Fourteenth Amendment “was to mandate certain rules of racial equality, especially those contained in Section 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866”).2 The Amendment’s phrasing supports this view, and there does not appear to have been any argument to the contrary predating Brown.
Consistent with the Civil Rights Act of 1866’s aim, the Amendment definitively overruled Chief Justice Taney’s opinion in Dred Scott that blacks “were not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government” and “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”19 How., at 407, 411. And, like the 1866 Act, the Amendment also clarified that American citizenship conferred
- 2. There is “some support” in the history of enactment for at least “four interpretations of the first section of the proposed amendment, and in particular of its Privileges [or] Immunities Clause: it would authorize Congress to enforce the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Article IV; it would forbid discrimination between citizens with respect to fundamental rights; it would establish a set of basic rights that all citizens must enjoy; and it would make the Bill of Rights applicable to the states.” D. Currie, The Reconstruction Congress, 75 U. Chi. L. Rev. 383, 406 (2008) (citing sources). Notably, those four interpretations are all colorblind.
rights not just against the Federal Government but also the government of the citizen’s State of residence. Unlike the Civil Rights Act, however, the Amendment employed a wholly race-neutral text, extending privileges or immunities to all “citizens”—even if its practical effect was to provide all citizens with the same privileges then enjoyed by whites. That citizenship guarantee was often linked with the concept of equality. Vaello Madero, 596 U. S., at ___ (THOMAS, J., concurring) (slip op., at 10). Combining the citizenship guarantee with the Privileges or Immunities Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, the Fourteenth Amendment ensures protection for all equal citizens of the Nation without regard to race. Put succinctly, “[o]ur Constitution is color-blind.” Plessy, 163 U. S., at 559 (Harlan, J., dissenting).
C — In the period closely following the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification, Congress passed several statutes designed to enforce its terms, eliminating government-based Black Codes—systems of government-imposed segregation—and criminalizing racially motivated violence. The marquee legislation was the Civil Rights Act of 1875, ch.114, 18 Stat. 335–337, and the justifications offered by proponents of that measure are further evidence for the colorblind view of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 sought to counteract the systems of racial segregation that had arisen in the wake of the Reconstruction era. Advocates of so-called separate but-equal systems, which allowed segregated facilities for blacks and whites, had argued that laws permitting or requiring such segregation treated members of both races precisely alike: Blacks could not attend a white school, but symmetrically, whites could not attend a black school. See Plessy, 163 U. S., at 544 (arguing that, in light of the social
circumstances at the time, racial segregation did not “necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other”). Congress was not persuaded. Supporters of the soon-to-be1875 Act successfully countered that symmetrical restrictions did not constitute equality, and they did so on color blind terms.
For example, they asserted that “free government demands the abolition of all distinctions founded on color and race.” 2 Cong. Rec. 4083 (1874). And, they submitted that “[t]he time has come when all distinctions that grew out of slavery ought to disappear.” Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 2dSess., 3193 (1872) (“[A]s long as you have distinctions and discriminations between white and black in the enjoyment of legal rights and privileges [,] you will have discontent and parties divided between black and white”). Leading Republican Senator Charles Sumner compellingly argued that “any rule excluding a man on account of his color is an indignity, an insult, and a wrong.” Id., at 242; see also ibid. (“I insist that by the law of the land all persons without distinction of color shall be equal before the law”). Far from conceding that segregation would be perceived as inoffensive if race roles were reversed, he declared that “[t]his is plain oppression, which you . . . would feel keenly were it directed against you or your child.” Id., at 384. He went on to paraphrase the English common-law rule to which he subscribed: “[The law] makes no discrimination on account of color.” Id., at 385.
Others echoed this view. Representative John Lynch declared that “[t]he duty of the law-maker is to know no race, no color, no religion, no nationality, except to prevent distinctions on any of these grounds, so far as the law is concerned.” 3 Cong. Rec. 945 (1875). Senator John Sherman believed that the route to peace was to “[w]ipe out all legal discriminations between white and black [and] make no distinction between black and white.” Cong. Globe, 42d Cong., 2d Sess., at 3193. And, Senator Henry Wilson sought to “make illegal all distinctions on account of color” because “there should be no distinction recognized by the laws of the land.” Id., at 819; see also 3 Cong. Rec., at 956 (statement of Rep. Cain) (“[M]en [are] formed of God equally . . . . The civil-rights bill simply declares this: that there shall be no discriminations between citizens of this land so far as the laws of the land are concerned”). The view of the Legislature was clear: The Constitution “neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Plessy, 163 U. S., at 559 (Harlan, J., dissenting).
D — The earliest Supreme Court opinions to interpret the Fourteenth Amendment did so in colorblind terms. Their statements characterizing the Amendment evidence its commitment to equal rights for all citizens, regardless of the color of their skin. See ante, at 10–11. In the Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36 (1873), the Court identified the “pervading purpose” of the Reconstruction Amendments as “the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom, and the protection of the newly-made freeman and citizen from the oppressions of those who had formerly exercised unlimited dominion over him.” Id., at 67–72. Yet, the Court quickly acknowledged that the language of the Amendments did not suggest “that no one else but the negro can share in this protection.” Id., at 72. Rather, “[i]f Mexican peonage or the Chinese coolie labor system shall develop slavery of the Mexican or Chinese race within our territory, [the Thirteenth Amendment] may safely be trusted to make it void.” Ibid. And, similarly, “if other rights are assailed by the States which properly and necessarily fall within the protection of these articles, that protection will apply, though the party interested may not be of African descent.” Ibid.
The Court thus made clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equality guarantee applied to members of all races, including Asian Americans, ensuring all citizens equal treatment under law.
Seven years later, the Court relied on the Slaughter-House view to conclude that “[t]he words of the [Fourteenth A]mendment . . . contain a necessary implication of a positive immunity, or right, most valuable to the colored race,—the right to exemption from unfriendly legislation against them distinctively as colored.” Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 303, 307–308 (1880). The Court thus found that the Fourteenth Amendment banned “expres[s]” racial classifications, no matter the race affected, because these classifications are “a stimulant to . . . race prejudice.” Id., at 308. See also ante, at 10–11. Similar statements appeared in other cases decided around that time. See Virginia v. Rives, 100 U. S. 313, 318 (1880) (“The plain object of these statutes [enacted to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment], as of the Constitution which authorized them, was to place the colored race, in respect of civil rights, upon a level with whites. They made the rights and responsibilities, civil and criminal, of the two races exactly the same”); Ex parte Virginia, 100 U. S. 339, 344–345 (1880) (“One great purpose of [the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments] was to raise the colored race from that condition of inferiority and servitude in which most of them had previously stood, into perfect equality of civil rights with all other persons within the jurisdiction of the States”).
This Court’s view of the Fourteenth Amendment reached its nadir in Plessy, infamously concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment “could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” 163 U. S., at 544. That holding stood in sharp contrast to the Court’s earlier embrace of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equality, ideal, as Justice Harlan emphasized in dissent: The Reconstruction Amendments had aimed to remove “the race line from our systems of governments.” Id., at 563. For Justice Harlan, the Constitution was colorblind and categorically rejected laws designed to protect “a dominant race—a superior class of citizens,” while imposing a “badge of servitude” on others. Id., at 560–562.
History has vindicated Justice Harlan’s view, and this Court recently acknowledged that Plessy should have been overruled immediately because it “betrayed our commitment to ‘equality before the law.’” Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 597 U. S. ___, ___ (2022) (slip op., at 44). Nonetheless, and despite Justice Harlan’s efforts, the era of state-sanctioned segregation persisted for more than a half century.
E — Despite the extensive evidence favoring the colorblind view, as detailed above, it appears increasingly in vogue to embrace an “ant subordination” view of the Fourteenth Amendment: that the Amendment forbids only laws that hurt, but not help, blacks. Such a theory lacks any basis in the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Respondents cite a smattering of federal and state statutes passed during the years surrounding the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. And, JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR’s dissent argues that several of these statutes evidence the ratifiers’ understanding that the Equal Protection Clause “permits consideration of race to achieve its goal.” Post, at 6. Upon examination, however, it is clear that these statutes are fully consistent with the colorblind view. Start with the 1865 Freedmen’s Bureau Act. That Act established the Freedmen’s Bureau to issue “provisions, clothing, and fuel . . . needful for the immediate and temporary shelter and supply of destitute and suffering refugees and freedmen and their wives and children” and the setting apart, for the use of loyal refugees and freedmen,” abandoned, confiscated, or purchased lands, and assigning “to every male citizen, whether refugee or freedman, . . . not more than forty acres of such land.” Ch. 90, §§2, 4, 13 Stat. 507.
The 1866 Freedmen’s Bureau Act then expanded upon the prior year’s law, authorizing the Bureau to care for all loyal refugees and freedmen. Ch. 200, 14 Stat. 173–174. Importantly, however, the Acts applied to freedmen (and refugees), a formally race-neutral category, not blacks writ large. And, because “not all blacks in the United States were former slaves,” “‘freedman’” was a decidedly under-inclusive proxy for race. M. Rappaport, Originalism and the Colorblind Constitution, 89 Notre Dame L. Rev. 71, 98 (2013) (Rappaport). Moreover, the Freedmen’s Bureau served newly freed slaves alongside white refugees. P. Moreno, Racial Classifications and Reconstruction Legislation, 61 J. So. Hist. 271, 276–277 (1995); R. Barnett & E. Bernick, The Original Meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment 119 (2021). And, advocates of the law explicitly disclaimed any view rooted in modern conceptions of ant subordination. To the contrary, they explicitly clarified that the equality sought by the law was not one in which all men shall be “six feet high”; rather, it strove to ensure that freedmen enjoy “equal rights before the law” such that “each man shall have the right to pursue in his own way life, liberty, and happiness.” Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., at 322, 342.
Several additional federal laws cited by respondents appear to classify based on race, rather than previous condition of servitude. For example, an 1866 law adopted special rules and procedures for the payment of “colored” servicemen in the Union Army to agents who helped them secure bounties, pensions, and other payments that they were due. 14 Stat. 367–368. At the time, however, Congress believed that many “black servicemen were significantly overpaying for these agents’ services in part because [the servicemen] did not understand how the payment system operated.” Rappaport 110; see also S. Siegel, The Federal Government’s Power To Enact Color-Conscious Laws: An Originalist Inquiry, 92 Nw. U. L. Rev. 477, 561 (1998). Thus, while this legislation appears to have provided a discrete race-based benefit, its aim—to prohibit race-based exploitation—may not have been possible at the time without using a racial screen. In other words, the statute’s racial classifications may well have survived strict scrutiny. See Rappaport 111–112. Another law, passed in 1867, provided funds for “freedmen or destitute colored people” in the District of Columbia. Res. of Mar. 16, 1867, No. 4, 15 Stat. 20. However, when a prior version of this law targeting only blacks was criticized for being racially discriminatory, “it was defended on the grounds that there were various places in the city where former slaves . . . lived in densely populated shantytowns.” Rappaport 104–105 (citing Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., at 1507). Congress thus may have enacted the measure not because of race, but rather to address a special problem in shantytowns in the District where blacks lived.
These laws—even if targeting race as such—likely were also constitutionally permissible examples of Government action “undo[ing] the effects of past discrimination in [a way] that do[es] not involve classification by race,” even though they had “a racially disproportionate impact.” Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U. S. 469, 526 (1989) (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment) (internal quotation marks omitted). The government can plainly remedy a race-based injury that it has inflicted—though such remedies must be meant to further a colorblind government, not perpetuate racial consciousness. See id., at 505 (majority opinion). In that way, “[r]ace-based government measures during the 1860’s and 1870’s to remedy state-enforced slavery were . . . not inconsistent with the colorblind Constitution.” Parents Involved, 551 U. S., at 772, n. 19 (THOMAS, J., concurring).
Moreover, the very same Congress passed both these laws and the unambiguously worded Civil Rights Act of 1866 that clearly prohibited discrimination on the basis of race.3 And, as noted above, the proponents of these laws explicitly sought equal rights without regard to race while disavowing any ant subordination view.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR argues otherwise, pointing to “a number of race-conscious” federal laws passed around the time of the Fourteenth Amendment’s enactment. Post, at 6 (dissenting opinion). She identifies the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1865, already discussed above, as one such law, but she admits that the programs did not benefit blacks exclusively. She also does not dispute that legislation targeting the needs of newly freed blacks in 1865 could be understood as directly remedial. Even today, nothing prevents the States from according an admissions preference to identified victims of discrimination. See Croson, 488 U. S., at 526 (opinion of Scalia, J.) (“While most of the beneficiaries might be black, neither the beneficiaries nor those disadvantaged by the preference would be identified on the basis of their race” (emphasis in original)); see also ante, at 39.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR points also to the Civil Rights Act of1866, which as discussed above, mandated that all citizens have the same rights as those “enjoyed by white citizens.”14 Stat. 27. But these references to the station of white citizens do not refute the view that the Fourteenth Amendment is colorblind. Rather, they specify that, in meeting the Amendment’s goal of equal citizenship, States must level up. The Act did not single out a group of citizens for
- 3. UNC asserts that the Freedmen’s Bureau gave money to Berea College at a time when the school sought to achieve a 50–50 ratio of black to white students. Brief for University Respondents in No. 21–707, p. 32. But, evidence suggests that, at the relevant time, Berea conducted its admissions without distinction by race. S. Wilson, Berea College: An Illustrated History 2 (2006) (quoting Berea’s first president’s statement that the school “would welcome ‘all races of men, without distinction’”).
special treatment—rather, all citizens were meant to be treated the same as those who, at the time, had the full rights of citizenship. Other provisions of the 1866 Act reinforce this view, providing for equality in civil rights. See Rappaport 97. Most notably, §14 stated that the basic civil rights of citizenship shall be secured “without respect to race or color.” 14 Stat. 176–177. And, §8 required that funds from land sales must be used to support schools “without distinction of color or race, . . . in the parishes of” the area where the land had been sold. Id., at 175.
In addition to these federal laws, Harvard also points to two state laws: a South Carolina statute that placed the burden of proof on the defendant when a “colored or black” plaintiff claimed a violation, 1870 S. C. Acts pp. 387–388, and Kentucky legislation that authorized a county superintendent to aid “negro paupers” in Mercer County, 1871 Ky. Acts pp. 273–274. Even if these statutes provided race-based benefits, they do not support respondents’ and JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR’s view that the Fourteenth Amendment was contemporaneously understood to permit differential treatment based on race, prohibiting only caste legislation while authorizing antisubordination measures. Cf., e.g., O. Fiss, Groups and the Equal Protection Clause,5 Philos. & Pub. Aff. 107, 147 (1976) (articulating the anti-subordination view); R. Siegel, Equality Talk: Antisubordination and Anticlassification Values in Constitutional Struggles Over Brown, 117 Harv. L. Rev. 1470, 1473, n. 8 (2004) (collecting scholarship). At most, these laws would support the kinds of discrete remedial measures that our precedents have permitted.
If services had been given only to white persons up to the Fourteenth Amendment’s adoption, then providing those same services only to previously excluded black persons would work to equalize treatment against a concrete baseline of government-imposed inequality. It thus may have been the case that Kentucky’s county-specific, race-based public aid law was necessary because that particular county was not providing certain services to local poor blacks. Similarly, South Carolina’s burden-shifting framework (where the substantive rule being applied remained notably race neutral) may have been necessary to streamline litigation around the most commonly litigated type of case: a lawsuit seeking to remedy discrimination against a member of the large population of recently freed black Americans. See 1870 S. C. Acts, at 386 (documenting “persist[ent]” racial discrimination by state-licensed entities).
Most importantly, however, there was a wide range of federal and state statutes enacted at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment’s adoption and during the period thereafter that explicitly sought to discriminate against blacks on the basis of race or a proxy for race. See Rappaport 113–115. These laws, hallmarks of the race-conscious Jim Crow era, are precisely the sort of enactments that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment sought to eradicate. Yet, proponents of an antisubordination view necessarily do not take those laws as evidence of the Fourteenth Amendment’s true meaning. And rightly so. Neither those laws, nor a small number of laws that appear to target blacks for preferred treatment, displace the equality vision reflected in the history of the Fourteenth Amendment’s enactment. This is particularly true in light of the clear equality requirements present in the Fourteenth Amendment’s text. See New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen, 597 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2022) (slip op., at 26–27) (noting that text controls over inconsistent postratification history).
II — Properly understood, our precedents have largely adhered to the Fourteenth Amendment’s demand for colorblind laws.4 That is why, for example, courts “must subject all racial classifications to the strictest of scrutiny.” Jenkins, 515 U. S., at 121 (THOMAS, J., concurring); see also ante, at 15, n. 4 (emphasizing the consequences of an insufficiently searching inquiry). And, in case after case, we have employed strict scrutiny vigorously to reject various forms of racial discrimination as unconstitutional. See Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 317–318 (THOMAS, J., concurring). The Court today rightly upholds that tradition and acknowledges the consequences that have flowed from Grutter’s contrary approach.
- 4. The Court has remarked that Title VI is coextensive with the Equal Protection Clause. See Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 244, 276, n. 23 all racial classifications to the strictest of scrutiny.” Jenkins, 515 U. S., at 121 (THOMAS, J., concurring); see also ante, at 15, n. 4 (emphasizing the consequences of an insufficiently searching inquiry). And, in case after case, we have employed strict scrutiny vigorously to reject various forms of racial discrimination as unconstitutional. See Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 317–318 (THOMAS, J., concurring). —————— (2003) (“We have explained that discrimination that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment committed by an institution that accepts federal funds also constitutes a violation of Title VI”); Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U. S. 265, 287 (1978) (opinion of Powell, J.) (“Title VI . . . proscribe[s] only those racial classifications that would violate the Equal Protection Clause”). As JUSTICE GORSUCH points out, the language of Title VI makes no allowance for racial considerations in university admissions. See post, at 2–3 (concurring opinion). Though I continue to adhere to my view in Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2020) (ALITO, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 1–54), I agree with JUSTICE GORSUCH’s concurrence in this case. The plain text of Title VI reinforces the colorblind view of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Three aspects of today’s decision warrant comment: First, to satisfy strict scrutiny, universities must be able to establish an actual link between racial discrimination and educational benefits. Second, those engaged in racial discrimination do not deserve deference with respect to their reasons for discriminating. Third, attempts to remedy past governmental discrimination must be closely tailored to address that particular past governmental discrimination.
A — To satisfy strict scrutiny, universities must be able to establish a compelling reason to racially discriminate. Grutter recognized “only one” interest sufficiently compelling to justify race-conscious admissions programs: the “educational benefits of a diverse student body.” 539 U. S., at 328, ——— (2003) (“We have explained that discrimination that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment committed by an institution that accepts federal funds also constitutes a violation of Title VI”); Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U. S. 265, 287 (1978) (opinion of Powell, J.) (“Title VI . . . proscribe[s] only those racial classifications that would violate the Equal Protection Clause”). As JUSTICE GORSUCH points out, the language of Title VI makes no allowance for racial considerations in university admissions. See post, at 2–3 (concurring opinion). ThoughI continue to adhere to my view in Bostock v. Clayton County, 590 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2020) (ALITO, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 1–54), I agree with JUSTICE GORSUCH’s concurrence in this case. The plain text of Title VI reinforces the colorblind view of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Expanding on this theme, Harvard and UNC have offered a grab bag of interests to justify their programs, spanning from “‘training future leaders in the public and private sectors’” to “‘enhancing appreciation, respect, and empathy,’” with references to “‘better educating [their] students through diversity’” in between. Ante, at 22–23. The Court today finds that each of these interests are too vague and immeasurable to suffice, ibid., and I agree.
Even in Grutter, the Court failed to clearly define “the educational benefits of a diverse student body.” 539 U. S., at 333. Thus, in the years since Grutter, I have sought to understand exactly how racial diversity yields educational benefits. With nearly 50 years to develop their arguments, neither Harvard nor UNC—two of the foremost research institutions in the world—nor any of their amici can explain that critical link.
Harvard, for example, offers a report finding that meaningful representation of racial minorities promotes several goals. Only one of those goals— “producing new knowledge stemming from diverse outlooks,” 980 F. 3d 157, 174 (CA12020)—bears any possible relationship to educational benefits. Yet, it too is extremely vague and offers no indication that, for example, student test scores increased as a result of Harvard’s efforts toward racial diversity.
More fundamentally, it is not clear how racial diversity, as opposed to other forms of diversity, uniquely and independently advances Harvard’s goal. This is particularly true because Harvard blinds itself to other forms of applicant diversity, such as religion. See 2 App. in No. 20–1199, pp. 734–743. It may be the case that exposure to different perspectives and thoughts can foster debate, sharpen young minds, and hone students’ reasoning skills. But, it is not clear how diversity with respect to race, qua race, furthers this goal. Two white students, one from rural Appalachia and one from a wealthy San Francisco suburb, may well have more diverse outlooks on this metric than two students from Manhattan’s Upper East Side attending its most elite schools, one of whom is white and other of whom is black. If Harvard cannot even explain the link between racial diversity and education, then surely its interest in racial diversity cannot be compelling enough to overcome the constitutional limits on race consciousness.
UNC fares no better. It asserts, for example, an interest in training students to “live together in a diverse society. “Brief for University Respondents in No. 21–707, p. 39. This may well be important to a university experience, but it is a social goal, not an educational one. See Grutter, 539 U. S., at 347–348 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (criticizing similar rationales as divorced from educational goals). And, again, UNC offers no reason why seeking a diverse society would not be equally supported by admitting individuals with diverse perspectives and backgrounds, rather than varying skin pigmentation.
Nor have amici pointed to any concrete and quantifiable educational benefits of racial diversity. The United States focuses on alleged civic benefits, including “increasing tolerance and decreasing racial prejudice.” Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 21–22. Yet, when it comes to educational benefits, the Government offers only one study purportedly showing that “college diversity experiences are significantly and positively related to cognitive development” and that “interpersonal interactions with racial diversity are the most strongly related to cognitive development.” N. Bowman, College Diversity Experiences and Cognitive Development: A Meta-Analysis, 80 Rev. Educ. Research 4, 20 (2010). Here again, the link is, at best, tenuous, unspecific, and stereotypical. Other amici assert that diversity (generally) fosters the even-more nebulous values of “creativity” and “innovation,” particularly in graduates’ future workplaces. See, e.g., Brief for Major American Business Enterprises as Amici Curiae 7–9; Brief for Massachusetts Institute of Technology et al. as Amici Curiae 16–17 (describing experience at IBM). Yet, none of those assertions deals exclusively with racial diversity—as opposed to cultural or ideological diversity. And, none of those amici demonstrate measurable or concrete benefits that have resulted from universities’ race-conscious admissions programs.
Of course, even if these universities had shown that racial diversity yielded any concrete or measurable benefits, they would still face a very high bar to show that their interest is compelling. To survive strict scrutiny, any such benefits would have to outweigh the tremendous harm inflicted by sorting individuals on the basis of race. See Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U. S. 1, 16 (1958) (following Brown, “law and order are not here to be preserved by depriving the Negro children of their constitutional rights”). As the Court’s opinions in these cases make clear, all racial stereotypes harm and demean individuals. That is why “only those measures the State must take to provide a bulwark against anarchy, or to prevent violence, will constitute a pressing public necessity” sufficient to satisfy strict scrutiny today. Grutter, 539 U. S., at 353 (opinion of THOMAS, J.) (internal quotations marks omitted). Cf. Lee v. Washington, 390 U. S. 333, 334 (1968) (Black, J., concurring) (protecting prisoners from violence might justify narrowly tailored discrimination); Croson, 488 U. S., at 521 (opinion of Scalia, J.) (“At least where state or local action is at issue, only a social emergency rising to the level of imminent danger to life and limb . . . can justify [racial discrimination]”).For this reason, “just as the alleged educational benefits of segregation were insufficient to justify racial discrimination [in the 1950s], see Brown v. Board of Education, the alleged educational benefits of diversity cannot justify racial discrimination today.” Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 320 (THOMAS, J., concurring) (citation omitted).
The Court also correctly refuses to defer to the universities’ own assessments that the alleged benefits of race- conscious admissions programs are compelling. It instead demands that the “interests [universities] view as compelling” must be capable of being “subjected to meaningful judicial review.” Ante, at 22. In other words, a court must be able to measure the goals asserted and determine when they have been reached. Ante, at 22–24. The Court’s opinion today further insists that universities must be able to “articulate a meaningful connection between the means they employ and the goals they pursue.” Ante, at 24. Again, I agree. Universities’ self-proclaimed righteousness does not afford them license to discriminate on the basis of race.
In fact, it is error for a court to defer to the views of an alleged discriminator while assessing claims of racial discrimination. See Grutter, 539 U. S., at 362–364 (opinion of THOMAS, J.); see also Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 318–319 (THOMAS, J., concurring); United States v. Virginia, 518
- S. 515, 551, n. 19 (1996) (refusing to defer to the Virginia Military Institute’s judgment that the changes necessary to accommodate the admission of women would be too great and characterizing the necessary changes as “manageable”). We would not offer such deference in any other context. In employment discrimination lawsuits under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, for example, courts require only a minimal prima facie showing by a complainant before shifting the burden onto the shoulders of the alleged-discriminator employer. See McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U. S. 792, 803–805 (1973). And, Congress has passed numerous laws—such as the Civil Rights Act of1875—under its authority to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, each designed to counter discrimination and each relying on courts to bring a skeptical eye to alleged discriminators.
This judicial skepticism is vital. History has repeatedly shown that purportedly benign discrimination may be pernicious, and discriminators may go to great lengths to hide and perpetuate their unlawful conduct. Take, for example, the university respondents here. Harvard’s “holistic” admissions policy began in the 1920s when it was developed to exclude Jews. See M. Synnott, The Half-Opened Door: Discrimination and Admission at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, 1900–1970, pp. 58–59, 61, 69, 73–74 (2010). Based on de facto quotas that Harvard quietly implemented, the proportion of Jews in Harvard’s freshman class declined from 28% as late as 1925 to just 12% by 1933. J. Karabel, The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton 172 (2005). During this same period, Harvard played a prominent role in the eugenics movement. According to then-President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, excluding Jews from Harvard would help maintain admissions opportunities for Gentiles and perpetuate the purity of the Brahmin race—New England’s white, Protestant upper crust. See D. Okrent, The Guarded Gate 309, and n. * (2019).
UNC also has a checkered history, dating back to its time as a segregated university. It admitted its first black undergraduate students in 1955—but only after being ordered to do so by a court, following a long legal battle in which UNC sought to keep its segregated status. Even then, UNC did not turn on a dime: The first three black students admitted as undergraduates enrolled at UNC but ultimately earned their bachelor’s degrees elsewhere. See M. Beauregard, Column: The Desegregation of UNC, The Daily Tar Heel, Feb. 16, 2022. To the extent past is prologue, the university respondents’ histories hardly recommend them as trustworthy arbiters of whether racial discrimination is necessary to achieve educational goals.
Of course, none of this should matter in any event; courts have an independent duty to interpret and uphold the Constitution that no university’s claimed interest may override.
See ante, at 26, n. 5. The Court today makes clear that, in the future, universities wishing to discriminate based on race in admissions must articulate and justify a compelling and measurable state interest based on concrete evidence. Given the strictures set out by the Court, I highly doubt any will be able to do so.
C — In an effort to salvage their patently unconstitutional programs, the universities and their amici pivot to argue that the Fourteenth Amendment permits the use of race to benefit only certain racial groups—rather than applicants writ large. Yet, this is just the latest disguise for discrimination. The sudden narrative shift is not surprising, as it has long been apparent that “‘diversity [was] merely the current rationale of convenience’” to support racially discriminatory admissions programs. Grutter, 539 U. S., at 393 (Kennedy, J., dissenting). Under our precedents, this new rationale is also lacking. To start, the case for affirmative action has emphasized a number of rationales over the years, including: (1) restitution to compensate those who have been victimized bypast discrimination, (2) fostering “diversity,” (3) facilitating “integration” and the destruction of perceived racial castes, and (4) countering longstanding and diffuse racial prejudice. See R. Kennedy, For Discrimination: Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law 78 (2013); see also P. Schuck, Affirmative Action: Past, Present, and Future, 20 Yale L. & Pol’y Rev. 1, 22–46 (2002). Again, this Court has only recognized one interest as compelling: the educational benefits of diversity embraced in Grutter. Yet, as the universities define the “diversity” that they practice, it encompasses social and aesthetic goals far afield from the education-based interest discussed in Grutter. See supra, at 23. The dissents too attempt to stretch the diversity rationale, suggesting that it supports broad remedial interests. See, e.g., post, at 23, 43, 67 (opinion of SOTOMAYOR, J.) (noting that UNC’s black admissions percentages “do not reflect the diversity of the State”; equating the diversity interest under the Court’s precedents with a goal of “integration in higher education” more broadly; and warning of “the dangerous consequences of an America where its leadership does not reflect the diversity of the People”); post, at 23 (opinion of JACKSON, J.) (explaining that diversity programs close wealth gaps). But language—particularly the language of controlling opinions of this Court—is not so elastic. See J. Pieper, Abuse of Language—Abuse of Power 23 (L. Krauth transl. 1992) (explaining that propaganda, “in contradiction to the nature of language, intends not to communicate but to manipulate” and becomes an “[i]nstrument of power” (emphasis deleted)).
The Court refuses to engage in this lexicographic drift, seeing these arguments for what they are: a remedial rationale in disguise. See ante, at 34–35. As the Court points out, the interest for which respondents advocate has been presented to and rejected by this Court many times before. In Regents of University of California v. Bakke, 438 U. S. 265 (1978), the University of California made clear its rationale for the quota system it had established: It wished to “counteract effects of generations of pervasive discrimination” against certain minority groups. Brief for Petitioner, O. T. 1977, No. 76–811, p. 2. But, the Court rejected this distinctly remedial rationale, with Justice Powell adopting in its place the familiar “diversity” interest that appeared later in Grutter. See Bakke, 438 U. S., at 306 (plurality opinion). The Court similarly did not adopt the broad remedial rationale in Grutter; and it rejects it again today. Newly and often minted theories cannot be said to be commanded by our precedents.
Indeed, our precedents have repeatedly and soundly distinguished between programs designed to compensate victims of past governmental discrimination from so-called benign race-conscious measures, such as affirmative action. Croson, 488 U. S., at 504–505; Adarand Constructors, Inc.
- Peña, 515 U. S. 200, 226–227 (1995). To enforce that distinction, our precedents explicitly require that any attempt to compensate victims of past governmental discrimination must be concrete and traceable to the de jure segregation system, which must have some discrete and continuing discriminatory effect that warrants a present remedy. See United States v. Fordice, 505 U. S. 717, 731 (1992). Today’s opinion for the Court reaffirms the need for such a close remedial fit, hewing to the same line we have consistently drawn. Ante, at 24–25.
Without such guardrails, the Fourteenth Amendment would become self-defeating, promising a Nation based on the equality ideal but yielding a quota- and caste-ridden society steeped in race-based discrimination. Even Grutter itself could not tolerate this outcome. It accordingly imposed a time limit for its race-based regime, observing that “‘a core purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to do away with all governmentally imposed discrimination based on race.’” 539 U. S., at 341–342 (quoting Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U. S. 429, 432 (1984); alterations omitted).
The Court today enforces those limits. And rightly so. As noted above, both Harvard and UNC have a history of racial discrimination. But, neither have even attempted to explain how their current racially discriminatory programs are even remotely traceable to their past discriminatory conduct. Nor could they; the current race-conscious admissions programs take no account of ancestry and, at least for Harvard, likely have the effect of discriminating against some of the very same ethnic groups against which Harvard previously discriminated (i.e., Jews and those who are not part of the white elite). All the while, Harvard and UNC ask us to blind ourselves to the burdens imposed on the millions of innocent applicants denied admission because of their membership in a currently disfavored race.
The Constitution neither commands nor permits such a result. “Purchased at the price of immeasurable human suffering,” the Fourteenth Amendment recognizes that classifications based on race lead to ruinous consequences for individuals and the Nation. Adarand Constructors, Inc., 515 U. S., at 240 (THOMAS, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment). Consequently, “all” racial classifications are “inherently suspect,” id., at 223–224 (majority opinion) (emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted) and must be subjected to the searching inquiry conducted by the Court, ante, at 21–34.
III — Both experience and logic have vindicated the Constitution’s colorblind rule and confirmed that the universities’ new narrative cannot stand. Despite the Court’s hope in Grutter that universities would voluntarily end their race-conscious programs and further the goal of racial equality, the opposite appears increasingly true. Harvard and UNC now forthrightly state that they racially discriminate when it comes to admitting students, arguing that such discrimination is consistent with this Court’s precedents. And they, along with today’s dissenters, defend that discrimination as good. More broadly, it is becoming increasingly clear that discrimination on the basis of race—often packaged as “affirmative action” or “equity” programs—are based on the benighted notion “that it is possible to tell when discrimination helps, rather than hurts, racial minorities.” Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 328 (THOMAS, J., concurring). We cannot be guided by those who would desire less in our Constitution, or by those who would desire more. “The Constitution abhors classifications based on race, not only because those classifications can harm favored races or are based on illegitimate motives, but also because every time the government places citizens on racial registers and makes race relevant to the provision of burdens or benefits, it demeans us all.” Grutter, 539 U. S., at 353 (opinion of THOMAS, J.).
A — The Constitution’s colorblind rule reflects one of the core principles upon which our Nation was founded: that “all men are created equal.” Those words featured prominently in our Declaration of Independence and were inspired by a rich tradition of political thinkers, from Locke to Montesquieu, who considered equality to be the foundation of a just government. See, e.g., J. Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government 48 (J. Gough ed. 1948); T. Hobbes, Leviathan 98 (M. Oakeshott ed. 1962); 1 B. Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws 121 (T. Nugent transl., J. Prichard ed. 1914). Several Constitutions enacted by the newly independent States at the founding reflected this principle. For example, the Virginia Bill of Rights of 1776 explicitly affirmed “[t]hat all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights.” Ch. 1, §1. The State Constitutions of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire adopted similar language. Pa. Const., Art. I (1776), in 2Federal and State Constitutions 1541 (P. Poore ed. 1877); Mass. Const., Art. I (1780), in 1 id., at 957; N. H. Const., Art. I (1784), in 2 id., at 1280. 5 And, prominent Founders
- 5. In fact, the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1783 declared that slavery was abolished in Massachusetts by virtue of the newly enacted Constitution’s provision of equality under the law. See The Quock Walker Case, in 1 H. Commager, Documents of American History 110 (9th ed. 1973) (Cushing, C. J.) (“[W]hatever sentiments have formerly prevailed in this particular or slid in upon us by the example of others, a different idea has taken place with the people of America, more favorable to the natural rights of mankind, and to that natural, innate desire of Liberty . . . . And upon this ground our Constitution of Government . . . sets out with declaring that all men are born free and equal . . . and in short is totally repugnant to the idea of being born slaves”).
publicly mused about the need for equality as the foundation for government. E.g., 1 Cong. Register 430 (T. Lloyded. 1789) (Madison, J.); 1 Letters and Other Writings of James Madison 164 (J. Lippincott ed. 1867); N. Webster, The Revolution in France, in 2 Political Sermons of the Founding Era, 1730–1805, pp. 1236–1299 (1998). As Jefferson declared in his first inaugural address, “the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect.” First Inaugural Address (Mar. 4, 1801), in 8 The Writings of Thomas Jefferson 4 (Washington ed. 1854).
Our Nation did not initially live up to the equality principle. The institution of slavery persisted for nearly a century, and the United States Constitution itself included several provisions acknowledging the practice. The period leading up to our second founding brought these flaws into bold relief and encouraged the Nation to finally make good on the equality promise. As Lincoln recognized, the promise of equality extended to all people—including immigrants and blacks whose ancestors had taken no part in the original founding. See Speech at Chicago, Ill. (July 10,1858), in 2 The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln 488–489, 499 (R. Basler ed. 1953). Thus, in Lincoln’s view, “‘the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence’” extended to blacks as his “‘equal,’” and “‘the equal of every living man.’” The Lincoln-Douglas Debates 285 (H. Holzer ed. 1993).
As discussed above, the Fourteenth Amendment reflected that vision, affirming that equality and racial discrimination cannot coexist. Under that Amendment, the color of a person’s skin is irrelevant to that individual’s equal status as a citizen of this Nation. To treat him differently on the basis of such a legally irrelevant trait is therefore a deviation from the equality principle and a constitutional injury.
Of course, even the promise of the second founding took time to materialize. Seeking to perpetuate a segregationist system in the wake of the Fourteenth Amendment’s ratification, proponents urged a “separate but equal” regime. They met with initial success, ossifying the segregationist view for over a half century. As this Court said in Plessy:
“A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races—a distinction which is founded in the color of the two races, and which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color—has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races, or reestablish a state of involuntary servitude.” 163 U. S., at 543.
Such a statement, of course, is precisely antithetical to the notion that all men, regardless of the color of their skin, are born equal and must be treated equally under the law. Only one Member of the Court adhered to the equality principle; Justice Harlan, standing alone in dissent, wrote: “Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.” Id., at 559. Though Justice Harlan rightly predicted that Plessy would, “in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made . . . in the Dred Scott case,” the Plessy rule persisted for over a half century. Ibid. While it remained in force, Jim Crow laws prohibiting blacks from entering or utilizing public facilities such as schools, libraries, restaurants, and theaters sprang up across the South.
This Court rightly reversed course in Brown v. Board of Education. The Brown appellants—those challenging segregated schools—embraced the equality principle, arguing that “[a] racial criterion is a constitutional irrelevance, and is not saved from condemnation even though dictated by a sincere desire to avoid the possibility of violence or race friction.” Brief for Appellants in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1952, No. 1, p. 7 (citation omitted). 6 Embracing that view, the Court held that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place” and “[s]eparate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Brown, 347 U. S., at 493, 495. Importantly, in reaching this conclusion, Brown did not rely on the particular qualities of the Kansas schools. The mere separation of students on the basis of race—the “segregation complained of,” id., at 495 (emphasis added)—constituted a constitutional injury. See ante, at 12 (“Separate cannot be equal”).
Just a few years later, the Court’s application of Brown made explicit what was already forcefully implied: “[O]ur decisions have foreclosed any possible contention that . . . a statute or regulation” fostering segregation in public facilities “may stand consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment.” Turner v. Memphis, 369 U. S. 350, 353 (1962) (per curiam); cf. A. Blaustein & C. Ferguson, Desegregation and the Law: The Meaning and Effect of the School Segregation Cases 145 (rev. 2d ed. 1962) (arguing that the Court in Brown had “adopt[ed] a constitutional standard” declaring “that all classification by race is unconstitutional per se”).
Today, our precedents place this principle beyond question. In assessing racial segregation during a race- motivated prison riot, for example, this Court applied strict scrutiny without requiring an allegation of unequal treatment among the segregated facilities. Johnson v. California, 543 U. S. 499, 505–506 (2005). The Court today reaffirms the rule, stating that, following Brown, “[t]he time for
- 6. Briefing in a case consolidated with Brown stated the colorblind position forthrightly: Classifications “[b]ased [s]olely on [r]ace or [c]olor” “can never be” constitutional. Juris. Statement in Briggs v. Elliott, O. T. 1951, No. 273, pp. 20–21, 25, 29; see also Juris. Statement in Davis v. County School Bd. of Prince Edward Cty., O. T. 1952, No. 191, p. 8 (“Indeed, we take the unqualified position that the Fourteenth Amendment has totally stripped the state of power to make race and color the basis for governmental action. . . . For this reason alone, we submit, the state separate school laws in this case must fall”).
making distinctions based on race had passed.” Ante, at 13. “What was wrong” when the Court decided Brown “in 1954 cannot be right today.” Parents Involved, 551 U. S., at 778 (THOMAS, J., concurring). Rather, we must adhere to the promise of equality under the law declared by the Declaration of Independence and codified by the Fourteenth Amendment.
B — Respondents and the dissents argue that the universities’ race-conscious admissions programs ought to be permitted because they accomplish positive social goals. I would have thought that history had by now taught a “greater humility” when attempting to “distinguish good from harmful uses of racial criteria.” Id., at 742 (plurality opinion). From the Black Codes, to discriminatory and destructive social welfare programs, to discrimination by individual government actors, bigotry has reared its ugly head time and again. Anyone who today thinks that some form of racial discrimination will prove “helpful” should thus tread cautiously, lest racial discriminators succeed (as they once did) in using such language to disguise more invidious motives. Arguments for the benefits of race-based solutions have proved pernicious in segregationist circles. Segregated universities once argued that race-based discrimination was needed “to preserve harmony and peace and at the same time furnish equal education to both groups.” Brief for Respondents in Sweatt v. Painter, O. T. 1949, No. 44, p. 94; see also id., at 79 (“‘[T]he mores of racial relationships are such as to rule out, for the present at least, any possibility of admitting white persons and Negroes to the same institutions’”). And, parties consistently attempted to convince the Court that the time was not right to disrupt segregationist systems. See Brief for Appellees in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Ed., O. T. 1949, No. 34, p. 12 (claiming that a holding rejecting separate but equal would “necessarily result . . . [i]n the abandoning of many of the state’s existing educational establishments” and the “crowding of other such establishments”); Brief for State of Kansas on Reargument in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1953, No. 1, p. 56 (“We grant that segregation may not be the ethical or political ideal. At the same time we recognize that practical considerations may prevent realization of the ideal”); Tr. of Oral Arg. in Davis v. School Bd. of Prince Edward Cty., O. T. 1954, No. 3, p. 208 (“We are up against the proposition: What does the Negro profit if he procures an immediate detailed decree from this Court now and then impairs or mars or destroys the public school system in Prince Edward County”). Litigants have even gone so far as to offer straight-faced arguments that segregation has practical benefits. Brief for Respondents in Sweatt v. Painter, at 77–78 (requesting deference to a state law, observing that “‘the necessity for such separation [of the races] still exists in the interest of public welfare, safety, harmony, health, and recreation . . .’” and remarking on the reasonableness of the position); Brief for Appellees in Davis v. County School Bd. of Prince Edward Cty., O. T. 1952, No. 3, p. 17 (“Virginia has established segregation in certain fields as a part of her public policy to prevent violence and reduce resentment. The result, in the view of an overwhelming Virginia majority, has been to improve the relationship between the different races”); id., at 25 (“If segregation be stricken down, the general welfare will be definitely harmed . . . there would be more friction developed” (internal quotation marks omitted)). In fact, slaveholders once “argued that slavery was a ‘positive good’ that civilized blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life,” and “segregationists similarly asserted that segregation was not only benign, but good for black students.” Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 328–329 (THOMAS, J., concurring).
“Indeed, if our history has taught us anything, it has taught us to beware of elites bearing racial theories.” Parents Involved, 551 U. S., at 780–781 (THOMAS, J., concurring). We cannot now blink reality to pretend, as the dissents urge, that affirmative action should be legally permissible merely because the experts assure us that it is “good” for black students. Though I do not doubt the sincerity of my dissenting colleagues’ beliefs, experts and elites have been wrong before—and they may prove to be wrong again. In part for this reason, the Fourteenth Amendment outlaws government-sanctioned racial discrimination of all types. The stakes are simply too high to gamble.7 Then, as now, the views that motivated Dred Scott and Plessy have not been confined to the past, and we must remain ever vigilant against all forms of racial discrimination.
- 7. Indeed, the lawyers who litigated Brown were unwilling to take this bet, insisting on a colorblind legal rule. See, e.g., Supp. Brief for Appellants on Reargument in Nos. 1, 2, and 4, and for Respondents in No. 10, in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1953, p. 65 (“That the Constitution is color blind is our dedicated belief ”); Brief for Appellants in Brown v. Board of Education, O. T. 1952, No. 1, p. 5 (“The Fourteenth Amendment precludes a state from imposing distinctions or classifications based upon race and color alone”). In fact, Justice Marshall viewed Justice Harlan’s Plessy dissent as “a ‘Bible’ to which he turned during his most depressed moments;” no opinion “buoyed Marshall more in his pre-Brown days.” In Memoriam: Honorable Thurgood Marshall, Proceedings of the Bar and Officers of the Supreme Court of the United States, p. X (1993) (remarks of Judge Motley).
C — Even taking the desire to help on its face, what initially seems like aid may in reality be a burden, including for the very people it seeks to assist. Take, for example, the college admissions policies here. “Affirmative action” policies do nothing to increase the overall number of blacks and Hispanics able to access a college education. Rather, those racial policies simply redistribute individuals among institutions of higher learning, placing some into more competitive institutions than they otherwise would have attended. See T. Sowell, Affirmative Action Around the World 145–146 (2004). In doing so, those policies sort at least some blacks and Hispanics into environments where they are less likely to succeed academically relative to their peers. Ibid. The resulting mismatch places “many blacks and Hispanics who likely would have excelled at less elite schools . . . in a position where underperformance is all but inevitable because they are less academically prepared than the white and Asian students with whom they must compete.” Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 332 (THOMAS, J., concurring).
It is self-evident why that is so. As anyone who has labored over an algebra textbook has undoubtedly discovered, academic advancement results from hard work and practice, not mere declaration. Simply treating students as though their grades put them at the top of their high school classes does nothing to enhance the performance level of those students or otherwise prepare them for competitive college environments. In fact, studies suggest that large racial preferences for black and Hispanic applicants have led to a disproportionately large share of those students receiving mediocre or poor grades once they arrive in competitive collegiate environments. See, e.g., R. Sander, A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools, 57 Stan. L. Rev. 367, 371–372 (2004); see also R. Sander & R. Steinbuch, Mismatch and Bar Passage: A School-Specific Analysis (Oct. 6, 2017), https://ssrn.com/ abstract=3054208. Take science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, for example. Those students who receive a large admissions preference are more likely to drop out of STEM fields than similarly situated students who did not receive such a preference. F. Smith &
- McArdle, Ethnic and Gender Differences in Science Graduation at Selective Colleges With Implications for Admission Policy and College Choice, 45 Research in Higher Ed. 353 (2004). “Even if most minority students are able to meet the normal standards at the ‘average’ range of colleges and universities, the systematic mismatching of minority students begun at the top can mean that such students are generally overmatched throughout all levels of higher education.” T. Sowell, Race and Culture 176–177 (1994).8
These policies may harm even those who succeed academically. I have long believed that large racial preferences in college admissions “stamp [blacks and Hispanics] with a badge of inferiority.” Adarand, 515 U. S., at 241 (opinion of THOMAS, J.). They thus “tain[t] the accomplishments of all those who are admitted as a result of racial discrimination” as well as “all those who are the same race as those admitted as a result of racial discrimination” because “no one can distinguish those students from the ones whose race played a role in their admission.” Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 333 (opinion of THOMAS, J.). Consequently, “[w]hen blacks” and, now, Hispanics “take positions in the highest places of government, industry, or academia, it is an open question . . . whether their skin color played a part in their advancement.” Grutter, 539 U. S., at 373 (THOMAS, J., concurring). “The question itself is the stigma—because either racial discrimination did play a role, in which case the person may be deemed ‘otherwise unqualified,’ or it did not, in which case asking the question itself unfairly marks those . . . who would succeed without discrimination.” Ibid.
- 8. JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR rejects this mismatch theory as “debunked long ago,” citing an amicus brief. Post, at 56. But, in 2016, the Journal of Economic Literature published a review of mismatch literature—coauthored by a critic and a defender of affirmative action—which concluded that the evidence for mismatch was “fairly convincing.” P. Arcidiacono & M. Lovenheim, Affirmative Action and the Quality-Fit Tradeoff, 54 J. Econ. Lit. 3, 20 (Arcidiacono & Lovenheim). And, of course, if universities wish to refute the mismatch theory, they need only release the data necessary to test its accuracy. See Brief for Richard Sander as Amicus Curiae 16–19 (noting that universities have been unwilling to provide the necessary data concerning student admissions and outcomes); accord, Arcidiacono & Lovenheim 20 (“Our hope is that better datasets soon will become available”).
Yet, in the face of those problems, it seems increasingly clear that universities are focused on “aesthetic” solutions unlikely to help deserving members of minority groups. In fact, universities’ affirmative action programs are a particularly poor use of such resources. To start, these programs are overinclusive, providing the same admissions bump to a wealthy black applicant given every advantage in life as to a black applicant from a poor family with seemingly insurmountable barriers to overcome. In doing so, the programs may wind up helping the most well-off members of minority races without meaningfully assisting those who struggle with real hardship. Simultaneously, the programs risk continuing to ignore the academic underperformance of “the purported ‘beneficiaries’” of racial preferences and the racial stigma that those preferences generate. Grutter, 539 U. S., at 371 (opinion of THOMAS, J.). Rather than performing their academic mission, universities thus may “see[k] only a facade—it is sufficient that the class looks right, even if it does not perform right.” Id., at 372.
D — Finally, it is not even theoretically possible to “help” a certain racial group without causing harm to members of other racial groups. “It should be obvious that every racial classification helps, in a narrow sense, some races and hurts others.” Adarand, 515 U. S., at 241, n. * (opinion of THOMAS, J.). And, even purportedly benign race-based discrimination has secondary effects on members of other races. The antisubordination view thus has never guided the Court’s analysis because “whether a law relying upon racial taxonomy is ‘benign’ or ‘malign’ either turns on ‘whose ox is gored’ or on distinctions found only in the eye of the beholder.” Ibid. (citations and some internal quotation marks omitted). Courts are not suited to the impossible task of determining which racially discriminatory programs are helping which members of which races—and whether those benefits outweigh the burdens thrust onto other racial groups.
As the Court’s opinion today explains, the zero-sum nature of college admissions—where students compete for a finite number of seats in each school’s entering class—aptly demonstrates the point. Ante, at 27.9 Petitioner here represents Asian Americans who allege that, at the margins, Asian applicants were denied admission because of their race. Yet, Asian Americans can hardly be described as the beneficiaries of historical racial advantages. To the contrary, our Nation’s first immigration ban targeted the Chinese, in part, based on “worker resentment of the low wage rates accepted by Chinese workers.” U. S. Commission on Civil Rights, Civil Rights Issues Facing Asian Americans in the 1990s, p. 3 (1992) (Civil Rights Issues); Act of May 6,1882, ch. 126, 22 Stat. 58–59.
In subsequent years, “strong anti-Asian sentiments in the Western States led to the adoption of many discriminatory laws at the State and local levels, similar to those aimed at blacks in the South,” and “segregation in public facilities, including schools, was quite common until after the Second World War.” Civil Rights Issues 7; see also S. Hinnershitz, A Different Shade of Justice: Asian American
- 9. JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR apparently believes that race-conscious admission programs can somehow increase the chances that members of certain races (blacks and Hispanics) are admitted without decreasing the chances of admission for members of other races (Asians). See post, at 58–59. This simply defies mathematics. In a zero-sum game like college admissions, any sorting mechanism that takes race into account in any way, see post, at 27 (opinion of JACKSON, J.) (defending such a system), has discriminated based on race to the benefit of some races and the detriment of others. And, the universities here admit that race is determinative in at least some of their admissions decisions. See, e.g., Tr. of Oral Arg. in No. 20–1199, at 67; 567 F. Supp. 3d 580, 633 (MDNC 2021); see also 397 F. Supp. 3d 126, 178 (Mass. 2019) (noting that, for Harvard, “race is a determinative tip for” a significant percentage “of all admitted African American and Hispanic applicants”); ante, at 5, n. 1 (describing the role that race plays in the universities’ admissions processes).
Civil Rights in the South 21 (2017) (explaining that while both Asians and blacks have at times fought “against similar forms of discrimination,” “[t]he issues of citizenship and immigrant status often defined Asian American battles for civil rights and separated them from African American legal battles”). Indeed, this Court even sanctioned this segregation—in the context of schools, no less. In Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U. S. 78, 81–82, 85–87 (1927), the Court held that a 9-year-old Chinese-American girl could be denied entry to a “white” school because she was “a member of the Mongolian or yellow race.”
Also, following the Japanese attack on the U. S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans in the AmericanWest were evacuated and interned in relocation camps. See Exec. Order No. 9066, 3 CFR 1092 (1943). Over 120,000 were removed to camps beginning in 1942, and the last camp that held Japanese Americans did not close until1948. National Park Service, Japanese American Life During Internment, www.nps.gov/articles/japanese-americaninternment-archeology.htm. In the interim, this Court endorsed the practice. Korematsu v. United States, 323 U. S. 214 (1944).
Given the history of discrimination against Asian Americans, especially their history with segregated schools, it seems particularly incongruous to suggest that a past history of segregationist policies toward blacks should be remedied at the expense of Asian American college applicants.10 But this problem is not limited to Asian Americans; more
- 10. Even beyond Asian Americans, it is abundantly clear that the university respondents’ racial categories are vastly oversimplistic, as the opinion of the Court and JUSTICE GORSUCH’s concurrence make clear. See ante, at 24–25; post, at 5–7 (opinion of GORSUCH, J.). Their “affirmative action” programs do not help Jewish, Irish, Polish, or other “white” ethnic groups whose ancestors faced discrimination upon arrival in America, any more than they help the descendants of those Japanese-American citizens interned during World War II.
broadly, universities’ discriminatory policies burden millions of applicants who are not responsible for the racial discrimination that sullied our Nation’s past. That is why, “[i]n the absence of special circumstances, the remedy for de jure segregation ordinarily should not include educational programs for students who were not in school (or even alive) during the period of segregation.” Jenkins, 515 U. S., at 137 (THOMAS, J., concurring). Today’s 17-yearolds, after all, did not live through the Jim Crow era, enact or enforce segregation laws, or take any action to oppress or enslave the victims of the past. Whatever their skin color, today’s youth simply are not responsible for instituting the segregation of the 20th century, and they do not shoulder the moral debts of their ancestors. Our Nation should not punish today’s youth for the sins of the past.
IV — Far from advancing the cause of improved race relations in our Nation, affirmative action highlights our racial differences with pernicious effect. In fact, recent history reveals a disturbing pattern: Affirmative action policies appear to have prolonged the asserted need for racial discrimination. Parties and amici in these cases report that, in the nearly 50 years since Bakke, 438 U. S. 265, racial progress on campuses adopting affirmative action admissions policies has stagnated, including making no meaningful progress toward a colorblind goal since Grutter. See ante, at 21–22. Rather, the legacy of Grutter appears to be ever increasing and strident demands for yet more racially oriented solutions.
A — It has become clear that sorting by race does not stop at the admissions office. In his Grutter opinion, Justice Scalia criticized universities for “talk[ing] of multiculturalism and
racial diversity,” but supporting “tribalism and racial segregation on their campuses,” including through “minority only student organizations, separate minority housing opportunities, separate minority student centers, even separate minority-only graduation ceremonies.” 539 U. S., at 349 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part).This trend has hardly abated with time, and today, such programs are commonplace. See Brief for Gail Heriot et al. as Amici Curiae 9. In fact, a recent study considering 173 schools found that 43% of colleges offered segregated housing to students of different races, 46% offered segregated orientation programs, and 72% sponsored segregated graduation ceremonies. D. Pierre & P. Wood, Neo-Segregation at Yale 16–17 (2019); see also D. Pierre, Demands for Segregated Housing at Williams College Are Not News, Nat. Rev., May 8, 2019. In addition to contradicting the universities’ claims regarding the need for interracial interaction, see Brief for National Association of Scholars as Amicus Curiae 4–12, these trends increasingly encourage our Nation’s youth to view racial differences as important and segregation as routine.
Meanwhile, these discriminatory policies risk creating new prejudices and allowing old ones to fester. I previously observed that “[t]here can be no doubt” that discriminatory affirmative action policies “injur[e] white and Asian applicants who are denied admission because of their race.” Fisher I, 570 U. S., at 331 (concurring opinion). Petitioner here clearly demonstrates this fact. Moreover, “no social science has disproved the notion that this discrimination ‘engenders attitudes of superiority or, alternatively, provokes resentment among those who believe that they have been wronged by the government’s use of race.’” Grutter, 539 U. S., at 373 (opinion of THOMAS, J.) (quoting Adarand, 515 U. S., at 241 (opinion of THOMAS, J.) (alterations omitted)). Applicants denied admission to certain colleges may
come to believe—accurately or not—that their race was responsible for their failure to attain a life-long dream. These individuals, and others who wished for their success, may resent members of what they perceive to be favored races, believing that the successes of those individuals are unearned.
What, then, would be the endpoint of these affirmative action policies? Not racial harmony, integration, or equality under the law. Rather, these policies appear to be leading to a world in which everyone is defined by their skin color, demanding ever-increasing entitlements and preferences on that basis. Not only is that exactly the kind of factionalism that the Constitution was meant to safeguard against, see The Federalist No. 10 (J. Madison), but it is a factionalism based on ever-shifting sands.
That is because race is a social construct; we may each identify as members of particular races for any number of reasons, having to do with our skin color, our heritage, or our cultural identity. And, over time, these ephemeral, socially constructed categories have often shifted. For example, whereas universities today would group all white applicants together, white elites previously sought to exclude Jews and other white immigrant groups from higher education. In fact, it is impossible to look at an individual and know definitively his or her race; some who would consider themselves black, for example, may be quite fair skinned. Yet, university admissions policies ask individuals to identify themselves as belonging to one of only a few reductionist racial groups. With boxes for only “black,” “white,” “Hispanic,” “Asian,” or the ambiguous “other,” how is a Middle Eastern person to choose? Someone from the Philippines? See post, at 5–7 (GORSUCH, J., concurring). Whichever choice he makes (in the event he chooses to report a race at all), the form silos him into an artificial category. Worse, it sends a clear signal that the category matters.
But, under our Constitution, race is irrelevant, as the Court acknowledges. In fact, all racial categories are little more than stereotypes, suggesting that immutable characteristics somehow conclusively determine a person’s ideology, beliefs, and abilities. Of course, that is false. See ante, at 28–30 (noting that the Court’s Equal Protection Clause jurisprudence forbids such stereotyping). Members of the same race do not all share the exact same experiences and viewpoints; far from it. A black person from rural Alabama surely has different experiences than a black person from Manhattan or a black first-generation immigrant from Nigeria, in the same way that a white person from rural Vermont has a different perspective than a white person from Houston, Texas. Yet, universities’ racial policies suggest that racial identity “alone constitutes the being of the race or the man.” J. Barzun, Race: A Study in Modern Superstition 114 (1937). That is the same naked racism upon which segregation itself was built. Small wonder, then, that these policies are leading to increasing racial polarization and friction. This kind of reductionist logic leads directly to the “disregard for what does not jibe with preconceived theory, “providing a “cloa[k] to conceal complexity, argumen[t] to the crown for praising or damning without the trouble of going into details”—such as details about an individual’s ideas or unique background. Ibid. Rather than forming a more pluralistic society, these policies thus strip us of our individuality and undermine the very diversity of thought that universities purport to seek.
The solution to our Nation’s racial problems thus cannot come from policies grounded in affirmative action or some other conception of equity. Racialism simply cannot be undone by different or more racialism. Instead, the solution announced in the second founding is incorporated in our Constitution: that we are all equal, and should be treated equally before the law without regard to our race. Only that promise can allow us to look past our differing skin colors and identities and see each other for what we truly are: individuals with unique thoughts, perspectives, and goals, but with equal dignity and equal rights under the law.
B — JUSTICE JACKSON has a different view. Rather than focusing on individuals as individuals, her dissent focuses on the historical subjugation of black Americans, invoking statistical racial gaps to argue in favor of defining and categorizing individuals by their race. As she sees things, we are all inexorably trapped in a fundamentally racist society, with the original sin of slavery and the historical subjugation of black Americans still determining our lives today. Post, at 1–26 (dissenting opinion). The panacea, she counsels, is to unquestioningly accede to the view of elite experts and reallocate society’s riches by racial means as necessary to “level the playing field,” all as judged by racial metrics. Post, at 26. I strongly disagree. First, as stated above, any statistical gaps between the average wealth of black and white Americans is constitutionally irrelevant. I, of course, agree that our society is not, and has never been, colorblind. Post, at 2 (JACKSON, J., dissenting); see also Plessy, 163 U. S., at 559 (Harlan, J., dissenting). People discriminate against one another for a whole host of reasons. But, under the Fourteenth Amendment, the law must disregard all racial distinctions:
“[I]n view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved.” Ibid.
With the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, the people of our Nation proclaimed that the law may not sort citizens based on race. It is this principle that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment adopted in the wake of the Civil War to fulfill the promise of equality under the law. And it is this principle that has guaranteed a Nation of equal citizens the privileges or immunities of citizenship and the equal protection of the laws. To now dismiss it as “two-dimensional flatness,” post, at 25 (JACKSON, J., dissenting), is to abdicate a sacred trust to ensure that our “honored dead . . . shall not have died in vain.” A. Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863).
Yet, JUSTICE JACKSON would replace the second Founders’ vision with an organizing principle based on race. In fact, on her view, almost all of life’s outcomes may be unhesitatingly ascribed to race. Post, at 24–26. This is so, she writes, because of statistical disparities among different racial groups. See post, at 11–14. Even if some whites have a lower household net worth than some blacks, what matters to JUSTICE JACKSON is that the average white household has more wealth than the average black household. Post, at 11.
This lore is not and has never been true. Even in the segregated South where I grew up, individuals were not the sum of their skin color. Then as now, not all disparities are based on race; not all people are racist; and not all differences between individuals are ascribable to race. Put simply, “the fate of abstract categories of wealth statistics is not the same as the fate of a given set of flesh-and-blood human beings.” T. Sowell, Wealth, Poverty and Politics 333 (2016). Worse still, JUSTICE JACKSON uses her broad observations about statistical relationships between race and select measures of health, wealth, and well-being to label all blacks as victims. Her desire to do so is unfathomable to me. I cannot deny the great accomplishments of black Americans, including those who succeeded despite long odds.
Nor do JUSTICE JACKSON’s statistics regarding a correlation between levels of health, wealth, and well-being between selected racial groups prove anything. Of course, none of those statistics are capable of drawing a direct causal link between race—rather than socioeconomic status or any other factor—and individual outcomes. So JUSTICE JACKSON supplies the link herself: the legacy of slavery and the nature of inherited wealth. This, she claims, locks blacks into a seemingly perpetual inferior caste. Such a view is irrational; it is an insult to individual achievement and cancerous to young minds seeking to push through barriers, rather than consign themselves to permanent victim-hood. If an applicant has less financial means (because of generational inheritance or otherwise), then surely a university may take that into account. If an applicant has medical struggles or a family member with medical concerns, a university may consider that too. What it cannot do is use the applicant’s skin color as a heuristic, assuming that because the applicant checks the box for “black” he therefore conforms to the university’s monolithic and reductionist view of an abstract, average black person.
Accordingly, JUSTICE JACKSON’s race-infused world view falls flat at each step. Individuals are the sum of their unique experiences, challenges, and accomplishments. What matters is not the barriers they face, but how they choose to confront them. And their race is not to blame for everything—good or bad—that happens in their lives. A contrary, myopic world view based on individuals’ skin color to the total exclusion of their personal choices is nothing short of racial determinism.
JUSTICE JACKSON then builds from her faulty premise to call for action, arguing that courts should defer to “experts “and allow institutions to discriminate based on race. Make no mistake: Her dissent is not a vanguard of the innocent and helpless. It is instead a call to empower privileged elites, who will “tell us [what] is required to level the playing field” among castes and classifications that they alone can divine. Post, at 26; see also post, at 5–7 (GORSUCH, J., concurring) (explaining the arbitrariness of these classifications). Then, after siloing us all into racial castes and pitting those castes against each other, the dissent somehow believes that we will be able—at some undefined point—to “march forward together” into some utopian vision. Post, at 26 (opinion of JACKSON, J.). Social movements that invoke these sorts of rallying cries, historically, have ended disastrously.
Unsurprisingly, this tried-and-failed system defies both law and reason. Start with the obvious: If social reorganization in the name of equality may be justified by the mere fact of statistical disparities among racial groups, then that organization must continue until these disparities are fully eliminated, regardless of the reasons for the disparities and the cost of their elimination. If blacks fail a test at higher rates than their white counterparts (regardless of whether the reason for the disparity has anything at all to do with race), the only solution will be race-focused measures. If those measures were to result in blacks failing at yet higher rates, the only solution would be to double down. In fact, there would seem to be no logical limit to what the government may do to level the racial playing field—outright wealth transfers, quota systems, and racial preferences would all seem permissible. In such a system, it would not matter how many innocents suffer race-based injuries; all that would matter is reaching the race-based goal.
Worse, the classifications that JUSTICE JACKSON draws are themselves race-based stereotypes. She focuses on two hypothetical applicants, John and James, competing for admission to UNC. John is a white, seventh-generation legacy at the school, while James is black and would be the first in his family to attend UNC. Post, at 3. JUSTICE JACKSON argues that race-conscious admission programs are necessary to adequately compare the two applicants. As an initial matter, it is not clear why James’s race is the only factor that could encourage UNC to admit him; his status as a first-generation college applicant seems to contextualize his application. But, setting that aside, why is it that John should be judged based on the actions of his great-great-great-grandparents? And what would JUSTICE JACKSON say to John when deeming him not as worthy of admission: Some statistically significant number of white people had advantages in college admissions seven generations ago, and you have inherited their incurable sin?
Nor should we accept that John or James represent all members of their respective races. All racial groups are heterogeneous, and blacks are no exception—encompassing northerners and southerners, rich and poor, and recent immigrants and descendants of slaves. See, e.g., T. Sowell, Ethnic America 220 (1981) (noting that the great success of West Indian immigrants to the United States—disproportionate among blacks more broadly— “seriously undermines the proposition that color is a fatal handicap in the American economy”). Eschewing the complexity that comes with individuality may make for an uncomplicated narrative, but lumping people together and judging them based on assumed inherited or ancestral traits is nothing but stereotyping.11
To further illustrate, let’s expand the applicant pool beyond John and James. Consider Jack, a black applicant and the son of a multimillionaire industrialist. In a world of race-based preferences, James’ seat could very well go to
11 Again, universities may offer admissions preferences to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and they need not withhold those preferences from students who happen to be members of racial minorities. Universities may not, however, assume that all members of certain racial minorities are disadvantaged.
Jack rather than John—both are black, after all. And what about members of the numerous other racial and ethnic groups in our Nation? What about Anne, the child of Chinese immigrants? Jacob, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors who escaped to this Nation with nothing and faced discrimination upon arrival? Or Thomas, the great-grandchild of Irish immigrants escaping famine? While articulating her black and white world (literally), JUSTICE JACKSON ignores the experiences of other immigrant groups (like Asians, see supra, at 43–44) and white communities that have faced historic barriers.
Though JUSTICE JACKSON seems to think that her race-based theory can somehow benefit everyone, it is an immutable fact that “every time the government uses racial criteria to ‘bring the races together,’ someone gets excluded, and the person excluded suffers an injury solely because of his or her race.” Parents Involved, 551 U. S., at 759 (THOMAS, J., concurring) (citation omitted).
Indeed, JUSTICE JACKSON seems to have no response—no explanation at all—for the people who will shoulder that burden. How, for example, would JUSTICE JACKSON explain the need for race-based preferences to the Chinese student who has worked hard his whole life, only to be denied college admission in part because of his skin color? If such a burden would seem difficult to impose on a bright-eyed young person, that’s because it should be. History has taught us to abhor theories that call for elites to pick racial winners and losers in the name of sociological experimentation.
Nor is it clear what another few generations of race- conscious college admissions may be expected to accomplish. Even today, affirmative action programs that offer an admissions boost to black and Hispanic students discriminate against those who identify themselves as members of other races that do not receive such preferential treatment. Must others in the future make sacrifices to relevel the playing field for this new phase of racial subordination? And then, out of whose lives should the debt owed to those further victims be repaid? This vision of meeting social racism with government-imposed racism is thus self-defeating, resulting in a never-ending cycle of victimization. There is no reason to continue down that path. In the wake of the Civil War, the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment charted a way out: a colorblind Constitution that requires the government to, at long last, put aside its citizens’ skin color and focus on their individual achievements.
C — Universities’ recent experiences confirm the efficacy of a colorblind rule. To start, universities prohibited from engaging in racial discrimination by state law continue to enroll racially diverse classes by race-neutral means. For example, the University of California purportedly recently admitted its “most diverse undergraduate class ever,” despite California’s ban on racial preferences. T. Watanabe, UC Admits Largest, Most Diverse Class Ever, But It was Harder To Get Accepted, L. A. Times, July 20, 2021, p. A1. Similarly, the University of Michigan’s 2021 incoming class was “among the university’s most racially and ethnically diverse classes, with 37% of first-year students identifying as persons of color.” S. Dodge, Largest Ever Student Body at University of Michigan This Fall, Officials Say, MLive.com (Oct. 22, 2021), https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2021/10/largest-ever-student-body-at-university-of-michiganthis-fall-officials-say.html. In fact, at least one set of studies suggests that, “when we consider the higher education system as a whole, it is clear that the vast majority of schools would be as racially integrated, or more racially integrated, under a system of no preferences than under a system of large preferences.” Brief for Richard Sander as Amicus Curiae 26. Race-neutral policies may thus achieve the same benefits of racial harmony and equality without any of the burdens and strife generated by affirmative action policies.
In fact, meritocratic systems have long refuted bigoted misperceptions of what black students can accomplish. I have always viewed “higher education’s purpose as imparting knowledge and skills to students, rather than a communal, rubber-stamp, credentialing process.” Grutter, 539
- S., at 371–372 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). And, I continue to strongly believe (and have never doubted) that “blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators.” Id., at 350. Meritocratic systems, with objective grading scales, are critical to that belief. Such scales have always been a great equalizer—offering a metric for achievement that bigotry could not alter. Racial preferences take away this benefit, eliminating the very metric by which those who have the most to prove can clearly demonstrate their accomplishments—both to themselves and to others.
Schools’ successes, like students’ grades, also provide objective proof of ability. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) do not have a large amount of racial diversity, but they demonstrate a marked ability to improve the lives of their students. To this day, they have proved “to be extremely effective in educating Black students, particularly in STEM,” where “HBCUs represent seven of the top eight institutions that graduate the highest number of Black undergraduate students who go on to earn [science and engineering] doctorates.” W. Wondwossen, The Science Behind HBCU Success, Nat. Science Foundation (Sept. 24,2020), https://beta.nsf.gov/science-matters/science-behindhbcu-success. “HBCUs have produced 40% of all Black engineers.” Presidential Proclamation No. 10451, 87 Fed. Reg. 57567 (2022). And, they “account for 80% of Black judges, 50% of Black doctors, and 50% of Black lawyers.”
- Hammond, L. Owens, & B. Gulko, Social Mobility Outcomes for HBCU Alumni, United Negro College Fund 4 (2021) (Hammond), https://cdn.uncf.org/wp-content/uploads/Social-Mobility-Report-FINAL.pdf; see also 87 Fed. Reg.57567 (placing the percentage of black doctors even higher, at 70%). In fact, Xavier University, an HBCU with only a small percentage of white students, has had better success at helping its low-income students move into the middleclass than Harvard has. See Hammond 14; see also Brief for Oklahoma et al. as Amici Curiae 18. And, each of the top 10 HBCUs have a success rate above the national average. Hammond 14.12
Why, then, would this Court need to allow other universities to racially discriminate? Not for the betterment of those black students, it would seem. The hard work of HBCUs and their students demonstrate that “black schools can function as the center and symbol of black communities, and provide examples of independent black leadership, success, and achievement.” Jenkins, 515 U. S., at 122
12 Such black achievement in “racially isolated” environments is neither new nor isolated to higher education. See T. Sowell, Education: Assumptions Versus History 7–38 (1986). As I have previously observed, in the years preceding Brown, the “most prominent example of an exemplary black school was Dunbar High School,” America’s first public high school for black students. Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 551 U. S. 701, 763 (2007) (concurring opinion). Known for its academics, the school attracted black students from across the Washington, D. C., area. “[I]n the period 1918–1923, Dunbar graduates earned fifteen degrees from Ivy League colleges, and ten degrees from Amherst, Williams, and Wesleyan.” Sowell, Education: Assumptions Versus History, at 29. Dunbar produced the first black General in the U. S. Army, the first black Federal Court Judge, and the first black Presidential Cabinet member. A. Stewart, First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar 2 (2013). Indeed, efforts towards racial integration ultimately precipitated the school’s decline. When the D. C. schools moved to a neighborhood-based admissions model, Dunbar was no longer able to maintain its prior admissions policies—and “[m]ore than 80 years of quality education came to an abrupt end.” T. Sowell, Wealth, Poverty and Politics 194 (2016).
(THOMAS, J., concurring) (citing Fordice, 505 U. S., at 748 (THOMAS, J., concurring)). And, because race-conscious college admissions are plainly not necessary to serve even the interests of blacks, there is no justification to compel such programs more broadly. See Parents Involved, 551 U. S., at 765 (THOMAS, J., concurring).
* * * The great failure of this country was slavery and its progeny. And, the tragic failure of this Court was its misinterpretation of the Reconstruction Amendments, as Justice Harlan predicted in Plessy. We should not repeat this mistake merely because we think, as our predecessors thought, that the present arrangements are superior to the Constitution. The Court’s opinion rightly makes clear that Grutter is, for all intents and purposes, overruled. And, it sees the universities’ admissions policies for what they are: rudderless, race-based preferences designed to ensure a particular racial mix in their entering classes. Those policies fly in the face of our colorblind Constitution and our Nation’s equality ideal. In short, they are plainly—and boldly—unconstitutional. See Brown II, 349 U. S., at 298 (noting that the Brown case one year earlier had “declare[d] the fundamental principle that racial discrimination in public education is unconstitutional”).While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.