An affirmative reaction: After Supreme Court ban on racial admission preferences, colleges should focus on family income levels and end the legacy boost for connected kids

The Supreme Court has spoken, invalidating racial preferences in college admissions as was widely anticipated. The six-justice conservative majority deemed the boost that universities give some applicants purely on the basis of their ethnicity or skin color incompatible with the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the laws.

There is plenty we disagree with in the reasoning as articulated by Chief Justice John Roberts. He — and a concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, tapped for the court by George H.W. Bush in part, let’s be honest, because he is Black — gives too-short shrift to the educational benefits of diversity. Colleges seeking to give their students a well-rounded education and mint future leaders have very good reason to go out of their way to admit all types of people from different walks of life and backgrounds, including different racial backgrounds.


We cannot, however, dispute that racial preferences that disadvantage Asian-Americans are in tension with, if not at odds with, the same principles that seek to guarantee equal opportunity for all, including Black and Latino Americans.

They could never last forever, so the imperative is for colleges to find a better way to uphold high academic standards and comprise diverse academic classes.

The first thing to do: give applicants a boost based on their income-level or whether they’d be the first in their family to attend college. As liberal Richard Kahlenberg has written in these pages, class-based preferences can just as successfully produce varied student bodies that honor the American promise. Colleges public and private should follow that advice.

Simultaneously, the schools should do away with the widespread practice that is the single worst offense against the American promise of fairness: legacy admissions, whereby the sons and daughters of alumni get easier entry based solely on the fact that their parents happened to attend. That practice privileges the privileged, and it should end.

Progressives furious at the court should redirect their energy to sculpting productive class-based admissions programs — and helping extinguish legacy admissions once and for all.