The Supreme Court on Thursday outlawed race-conscious affirmative action, a ruling that upends decades of precedent, could hamper efforts to advance environmental justice, and, critics argue, will further entrench systemic racism throughout American society.
“The devastating impact of this decision cannot be overstated,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. “The majority’s vision of race neutrality will entrench racial segregation in higher education because racial inequality will persist so long as it is ignored.”
The conservative supermajority’s application of strict scrutiny toward race-conscious admissions practices augurs danger for any environmental policy that accounts for the decades of environmental racism that has sited highways and polluting industries in communities of color while simultaneously superheating those same communities with concrete and lack of greenspace. In crafting environmental justice policies, the Biden administration has repeatedly avoided explicit mentions of race, including in a Council on Environmental Quality screening tool.
‘Deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life’
Each of the justices in the majority in this case — which still allows affirmative action based on whether an applicant’s parent attended the school (legacy admissions) or whether the applicant attended an expensive prep or boarding school — has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct, was nominated by a president who lost the popular vote upon first taking office, or both.
“With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces ‘colorblindness for all’ by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life,” Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote in dissent. “Having so detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences, the Court has now been lured into interfering with the crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America’s real-world problems.”
(Affirmative action: Washington Post $, AP, SCOTUSblog, NewsOne, The Root, TIME, ABC, Capital B News, Axios, Wall Street Journal $, NBC, The 19th* News, The Guardian, USA Today, CNN, New York Times $, Politico, NPR, Prism Reports, Colorlines explainer; Environmental justice implications: E&E News; Legacy admissions: Politico, NBC, Harvard Crimson; Dissents: ABC, The Hill, CNBC, The Hill)