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Virginia GOP leaders praise affirmative action ruling, schools vow to keep pursuing diversity

Virginia Mercury



By Sarah Vogelsong

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin Thursday praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision striking down affirmative action at higher education institutions.

“Today, after the Supreme Court’s ruling, we are closer than ever before to ensuring that an individual’s future opportunities are unlocked based on the trajectory of their potential, their aspirations and the quality of their capabilities as opposed to simply on their race,” Youngkin said on Twitter shortly after the country’s highest court struck down race-conscious admissions in a case involving Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, who in 2021 became the first Black woman to hold statewide office in Virginia, also applauded the outcome, saying it will “ensure college admissions are based on a student’s merits, not the color of their skin.” Earle-Sears noted she had joined a legal brief supporting the plaintiffs who challenged affirmative action policies.

Attorney General Jason Miyares, who did not comment on the ruling, also signed onto a brief supporting the plaintiffs.

Virginia Democrats had sharply different reactions to the 6-3 decision ruling that consideration of race violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said the decision “undermines an important effort to address racial inequality caused by our nation’s history with racism,” adding, “The impact of 246 years of slavery and 100 years of Jim Crow on our communities and institutions did not go away with a magic wand.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who began his career as a lawyer fighting housing discrimination in Richmond, said the “strength of Virginia’s—and America’s—higher education system lies in its diversity.”

“Today’s sad ruling means we have even more work to do to address our nation’s ugly history of racism and root out the system inequities that unfairly burden diverse communities, like Black and Latino Americans,” Kaine said. “Not only are those system inequities plain wrong; they hurt all of us and hold our economy back.”

What the court ruled

The majority opinion penned by Chief Justice John Roberts found Harvard and UNC “fail to operate their race-based admissions programs in a manner that is ‘sufficiently measurable to permit judicial [review],’” haven’t sufficiently proved a connection between those programs and goals like increasing diversity and training future leaders and haven’t identified an endpoint by which the programs would no longer be considered necessary.

Additionally, the court ruled that the universities’ programs “fail to comply with Equal Protection Clause’s twin commands that race may never be used as a ‘negative’ and that it may not operate as a stereotype,” pointing to a lower court finding that Harvard’s process resulted in fewer admissions of Asian American students.

The “assertion that race is never a negative factor in their admissions programs cannot withstand scrutiny,” the majority wrote. “College admissions are zero-sum, and a benefit provided to some applicants but not to others necessarily advantages the former at the expense of the latter.”

In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that the ruling will result in “further entrenching racial inequality in education” and will end progress toward more inclusive schools begun in Brown v. Board of Education.

“For 45 years, the Court extended Brown’s transformative legacy to the context of higher education, allowing colleges and universities to consider race in a limited way and for the limited purpose of promoting the important benefits of racial diversity,” she wrote. “This limited use of race has helped equalize educational opportunities for all students of every race and background and has improved racial diversity on college campuses.”

Thursday’s ruling, she concluded, “cements a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.”

Impact on Virginia schools

Virginia universities reacted cautiously Thursday to the ruling.

Erin Jay, a spokesperson for William & Mary, said “the university will take time thoughtfully to review (the ruling) and understand if there are implications to William & Mary’s comprehensive review process for admissions.”

The university reported that 32% of its students “identify as people of color” and on its website has said it is “committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity/equity, and diversity.”

In a statement, Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao said the school “has been preparing for some time by evaluating admissions procedures and considering the impact of this ruling.”

While he acknowledged that “we won’t know all of those answers right away,” he said that “many of VCU’s admissions procedures are unlikely to be affected.”

Rao noted that a third of VCU’s incoming freshman class are first-generation students, while a third of undergraduate students are eligible for Pell grants.

George Mason University said flatly the decision will have no impact on the school, because it doesn’t consider race in its admissions process and admits more than 90% of undergraduate applicants. In August, GMU said, the school will “once again welcome the largest and most diverse student body in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“This diversity of origin, identity, circumstance, and thought is what drives our quality and defines our character,” GMU said. “When walking across one of our campuses, the rich diversity everyone sees is not artificially curated by an admissions process primarily defined by keeping students out.”

Virginia Tech said its administration is reviewing the ruling but will continue to live up to its motto “Ut Prosim (That I May Serve)” and its goal of providing a “practical education to all members of the commonwealth, nation, and beyond.”

“To accomplish this mission, we will continue to work hard to expand access to underserved and underrepresented populations,” Virginia Tech said in a statement from its communications office.

Dr. Eric Claville, a political and legal analyst and professor of politics and law at Norfolk State University, characterized the Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling as both expected and regressive.

“Higher education leaders have known for a long time that this challenge [to affirmative action] would come,” he said. “We need these policies to advance diversity and equity on campuses, and the law is the incentive to make and enforce those changes. Without that, we will not have the same protections for promoting diverse, inclusive, equitable student bodies in Virginia and elsewhere.”

Claville said the high court’s decision “will have far-reaching implications beyond limiting race-based admissions in colleges.”

“I believe that here in Virginia, we will see ripple effects – perhaps in the way we hire for jobs, in the ways we support our communities, in the work across many sectors – that could basically roll back advancement opportunities for non-white people,” he said.

This is a breaking news story that will be updated as more information is available.

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