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United States Supreme Court Building on March 29.

Credit: Jesse Zhang

The Supreme Court ruled against the use of race in college admissions on Thursday, overturning decades of affirmative action in higher education. 

In a 6-3 decision, the court stated that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina’s consideration of race violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. This ruling will prevent higher education institutions from taking race into account in their admissions programs, requiring schools like Penn to recalibrate how they build diverse classes of incoming students.

In an email sent to the Penn community on Thursday, Penn President Liz Magill and Provost John Jackson Jr. said that the University is studying the court’s opinion to ensure that its admissions program complies with the law. 

Penn’s academic community “is at its best when it is diverse across many dimensions," the email said. Acknowledging that the court’s decision will require changes to longstanding admissions practices, it emphasized that Penn's "values and beliefs will not change."

"Bringing together individuals who have wide-ranging experiences that inform their approach to their time at Penn is fundamental to excellent teaching, learning, and research,” the email said. "In full compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision, we will seek ways to admit individual students who will contribute to the kind of exceptional community that is essential to Penn’s educational mission.”

In two cases filed against Harvard and UNC, Students for Fair Admissions argued that the universities’ race-conscious admissions policies disadvantaged white and Asian American applicants. 

Students “must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual — not on the basis of race,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “Many universities have for too long done just the opposite.” 

In dissents, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in the Harvard case, and Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, in the UNC case, wrote that the ruling would have devastating effects on equity in higher education. “Today, this court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress,” Sotomayor wrote.

Until the ruling on Thursday, legal precedent upheld the rights of schools to consider race as a contributing factor to admissions in higher education. Legal analysts overwhelmingly expected the court to overturn affirmative action due to precedents set by previous rulings. Before the decision, the DP spoke with the Penn community about the potential overturn. 

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School professor Cara McClellan, the director of the school's Advocacy for Racial and Civil Justice Clinic, said that not considering race in admissions is shown to be "really devastating" to the number of students of color. 

Historically, studies have shown that schools that have banned affirmative action have seen “persistent declines” in the number of underrepresented minorities admitted and enrolled.

"At Penn, our students join the most vibrant and diverse community they may ever know," the email on Thursday said. "This type of community is essential to their preparation to lead in a pluralistic, global society and to contribute to the creation of knowledge, all at the highest levels of excellence. To do this, our students must live and learn with others who, owing to their paths through life, bring many and varied perspectives, experiences, personal qualities, interests, ambitions, and insights."