APHA and other public health advocates criticized a U.S. Supreme Court ruling today that turns back the clock on progress to improve diversity in the U.S. health workforce and beyond.


On Thursday, the court held that admissions at two universities that considered race and ethnicity a relevant factor in determining student enrollment violated equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution. The ruling upends almost half a century of legal precedent that enabled universities to consider race and ethnicity as an additional factor in admission policy.Women doctors of various race and ethnicity


In the two cases, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and SFFA v. University of North Carolina, justices ruled 6-3 majority that the two schools acted unconstitutionally in using race as an admissions consideration.


The ruling is expected to have far-reaching effects on admission practices at other U.S. colleges and universities. It could also clog the pipeline of candidates hoping to study and work in public health and other fields that generally require higher degrees.


Racial inequality continues to be entrenched in the U.S., wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the dissenting opinion.


"Ignoring race will not equalize a society that is racially unequal,” she said. “What was true in the 1860s, and again in 1954, is true today: Equality requires acknowledgment of inequality."


APHA called the ruling “devastating,” noting that affirmative action has helped diversify the public health field, leading to better health outcomes for people of color. Studies show that when health professionals work with and treat people with whom they share life experiences, health outcomes improve. Before affirmative action in higher learning, racist policies severely limited people of color from attending colleges and universities and working in health care.


“With a more diverse public health and health care workforce, we can address and redress years of systemic racism that has sustained poorer health outcomes for our communities of color,” Georges Benjamin, MD, APHA executive director said in a statement. “To not consider an applicant’s full background, especially as underrepresentation of certain minority groups in health professions remains an enduring problem, will ultimately lead to lower minority enrollment and worse overall national health.”


What they said: A sampling of reactions

"This ruling will make it even more difficult for the nation’s colleges and universities to help create future health experts and workers that reflect the diversity of our great nation. The health and well-being of Americans will suffer as a result.”
Xavier Becerra, secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court undermines decades of progress centered on the educational value of diversity, and will reverse gains made in the battle against health inequities. Diversity is vital to health care, and this court ruling deals a serious blow to our goal of increasing medical career opportunities for historically marginalized and minoritized people.”
Jesse Ehrenfeld, president, American Medical Association

“Race plays an undeniable role in shaping the identities of and quality of life for Black Americans. In a society still scarred by the wounds of racial disparities, the Supreme Court has displayed a willful ignorance of our reality. The NAACP will not be deterred nor silenced in our fight to hold leaders and institutions accountable for their role in embracing diversity no matter what.”
Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is devastating for economic equity and will only further exacerbate opportunity gaps for people of color. While imperfect, affirmative action aims to correct longstanding historic, race-based institutional inequities in our educational system. Until we can guarantee that every child, regardless of ZIP code, can access the best education, affirmative action must stay in place.”
Maria Teresa Kumar, president, Voto Latino

“A holistic consideration of each applicant, with race as one factor among many, is essential to removing barriers within our education system and can ultimately bring us closer to a society where equal opportunity and prosperity are within reach for all.”
The Asian American Foundation

“Today’s decision is a painful rejection of both precedent and the court’s nearly seven-decade commitment to racial equality. Since Brown v. Board of Education, the nation has committed itself to using our system of education to remediate past discrimination and to promote integration. For the first time, the court tells us that our quest was not only unconstitutional but immoral — and does so in the name of Brown.
Alliance for Justice

“Make no mistake: Today’s draconian ruling by the Supreme Court is a catastrophic decision that will have dire outcomes for millions of Americans for decades to come. This decision ignores the original sin of this country. It’s a throwback to a cruel, racist past that admissions policies like this tried to repair. This decision doesn’t simply end affirmative action, it has huge consequences for public life far beyond higher education. Ignoring the facts before them, the majority pretends that both discrimination and the effects of discrimination simply do not exist and do not need to be tackled.”
Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers

“Race-conscious affirmative action practices help address systemic barriers and create crucial pathways for Black and brown people to access higher education. This is an attempt by anti-civil rights activists to divide communities of color on this issue, and we will not let it succeed. We remain committed to working together to protect and advance decades of racial progress. Our multiracial democracy benefits when everyone has an equal opportunity to learn and thrive.”
Margaret Huang, president and CEO, Southern Poverty Law Center

“Discrimination still exists in America. Today’s decision does not change that. I believe our colleges are stronger when they’re racially diverse. Our nation is stronger because we are tapping into the full range of talent in this nation. We cannot let this decision be the last word.”
President Joe Biden

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling is nothing short of a supreme setback for civil rights and opportunity for people of color, women and others historically underrepresented in the halls of higher education.”
David Crowley, county executive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“The Supreme Court’s decision today does not change the responsibility of colleges and universities to increase educational opportunities for students of color. Colleges have long touted diversity as imperative to creating enriching educational environments for all students — our institutions of higher education must double down on that commitment and advance policies that ensure every student gets a fair shot.”
ReNika Moore, director, ACLU Racial Justice Program

“Our nation’s future depends on racial equity and diversity in higher education to achieve upward mobility for our families and greater prosperity among our multicultural communities that leads to a thriving economy. We must continue to work together to achieve this goal. We call on government and philanthropy to commit long-term financial investments to community-based organizations to develop innovative strategies that will continue to prepare for the application process that will support diversity in higher education.”
National Hispanic Medical Association

“For far too long, Black students and other students of color have been excluded and underrepresented within our higher education system. Today’s Supreme Court ruling reverses the decades-long precedent that upholds the constitutionality of higher education institutions considering the whole person, including race, in admission decisions.”
Deborah Turner, president, League of Women Voters of the United States

“Today’s decisions...are a serious blow to our country’s multi-decade pursuit of closing the racial education gap and fostering college campuses that reflect the American public. These decisions will inevitably have ripple effects and risk further inflaming resistance to diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools and workplaces.”
Russ Feingold, president, American Constitution Society

"The admissions team at Sarah Lawrence College has never relied solely on one single factor when admitting students, and we will continue to ensure that we are recruiting and enrolling as diverse a class as possible in support of our mission, which remains unchanged: to graduate world citizens who are diverse in every definition of the word, who take intellectual and creative risks, who cross disciplinary boundaries, and who are able to sustain exceptional academic discipline within a framework of humanistic values and concern for community.”
Sarah Lawrence College

“Student diversity remains a top priority for the University of California — one that we will continue to pursue with every tool available to us. Attracting, supporting and retaining a diverse student body leads to better quality instruction and educational outcomes, significant community benefits and overall fairness.”
Michael Drake, president, University of California system

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