The Colorblind Constitution Prevails

U.S. Constitution / WC

The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled on the constitutionality of racial discrimination in the college admissions process, which over the past five decades had become a defining feature of higher education in this country. The court decided in favor of the Constitution, sanity, and fairness, and eviscerated a regime that sought to remedy the legacy of racism in this country with more of it.

The timing of the decision is meaningful, coming days before the July 4th holiday: The Court’s 6-3 ruling vindicates the country’s founding principles and the idea of equal treatment enshrined in the 14th Amendment.

The most important aspect of the ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, is the affirmation that the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees to all citizens the equal protection of the law, means that the same law applies in the same way to every person—without regard to race. The Court rejected the so-called antisubordination view, which holds that the Fourteenth Amendment forbids only laws that hurt minorities, not those that help them—that is, that different treatment under the same law is permissible in light of historical inequities.

They made clear that the law guarantees equality of opportunity, not outcome. Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurrence, addressed this point powerfully. Advocates of the 14th Amendment, he wrote, "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.’"

For decades, we have heard from college administrators that they only employed a little bit of racial discrimination—in cases of two equally qualified applicants, in borderline cases, and so on. If the data unearthed in the litigation wasn’t damning enough, the Ivy League’s collective meltdown over the ruling was itself an embarrassing refutation of those claims. Harvard immediately encouraged applicants to write about their race in their personal essays, while Princeton’s execrable Christopher Eisgruber said the Court had "significantly" narrowed the school’s discretion to admit applicants.

Those responses demonstrate how rampant and pervasive the discrimination in university admissions has been, and how salutary Thursday’s verdict might be. Three cheers.

But now comes the hard part. It is clear from the response of President Biden and the many universities that have already spoken out that they plan to use every means at their disposal to circumvent the law and impose a new regime of racial discrimination relying on proxies for race. A new battle begins today, but the forces of equality have won an important victory over the forces of equity—we can enjoy that for a moment, at least.