Affirmative Action is No More. Now What?

Many Asian Americans grapple with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling they do not support, yet used their plight to decide the case.

harvard grads
Graduating Harvard University Law School students stand and wave gavels (Robert Spencer/Getty Images)

Naya Jorgensen


June 30, 2023


10 min

Yesterday, June 29, the United States Supreme Court all but ended affirmative action. In Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (UNC), the Court debated whether these two universities’ admissions systems, which use race as a factor in applications, were legal. The decision was a 6-3 ruling against UNC and a 6-2 ruling against Harvard — Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Harvard graduate, recused herself from the latter vote. The majority concluded that the two schools’ admissions processes violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, making them unconstitutional.

“Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race,” said Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority opinion, “[and] unavoidably employ race in a negative manner.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor offered a dissenting opinion: “Today, this Court…rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress…The majority's vision of race neutrality will entrench racial segregation in higher education.”

This decision concludes a years-long saga involving Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which has challenged race-conscious admissions policies at multiple universities. These attempts were unsuccessful until now. Though the June 29 ruling was specifically about Harvard and UNC, they’re not the only schools at stake. Colleges and students — though not the military, whose admissions may continue to consider race, according to the Court — will feel the effects across the nation. The case also rested on how the two schools treated their Asian applicants. It’s no surprise, then, that Asian Americans, including South Asian Americans, have complex feelings about it.

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