Members of Massachusetts' all-Democratic congressional delegation swiftly moved to condemn Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found Harvard and the University of North Carolina's affirmative action admissions policies violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Congresswoman and Democratic Minority Whip of the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark told WBUR's Radio Boston that she was disappointed but unsurprised by the court's decision.
As NPR's Nina Totenberg reports, the 6-3 ruling in the UNC case fell along ideological lines; it was a 6-2 decision for the Harvard case, as Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself.
Clark said the decision, which overturned more than 40 years of legal precedent, takes a "colorblind" approach to affirmative action, but "we don't live in a colorblind country."
"This is reversing five decades of precedent and progress," said Clark. "We're going to review this opinion and chart a course forward."
Both U.S. senators from Massachusetts tweeted their frustration with the decision.
"The far-right, extremist majority on the Supreme Court just struck down affirmative action—a critical tool for colleges and universities to advance racial justice, equity, and diversity across the United States," wrote Sen. Ed Markey.
"An extremist Supreme Court has once again reversed decades of settled law, rolled back the march toward racial justice, and narrowed educational opportunity for all. I won't stop fighting for young people with big dreams who deserve an equal chance to pursue their future," wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
In her initial reaction to the ruling, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley tweeted a single line from the UNC case dissent by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Pressely also released a statement, saying, in part, "For decades, affirmative action has been a critical tool for confronting the legacy of anti-Black racism and discrimination still present in higher education. However, today’s decision by the far-right extreme Supreme Court will only exacerbate the systemic oppression that has barred Black, brown, and other marginalized students from equitable opportunities."
Fellow U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan called the ruling "ridiculous" in her statement on Twitter, writing, "This decision turns back the clock on the progress made to ensure more equitable access to higher education, particularly prestigious schools."
Other Massachusetts politicos also quickly expressed concerns. Gov. Maura Healey's administration, along with several public and private colleges and advocacy organizations throughout the state, released a joint statement saying that Massachusetts will continue to champion "inclusion in education."
"We want to make sure that students of color, LGBTQ+ students, first generation students, and all students historically underrepresented in higher education feel welcomed and valued at our colleges and universities," the group wrote in its statement. "Today’s decision, while disappointing, will not change our commitment to these students."
Healey had earlier prepared for the court to upend affirmative action, announcing on June 15 the creation of an advisory council tasked with offering guidance on how to "keep Massachusetts welcoming and inclusive of all students."
The opprobrium expressed by elected officials was shared by college administrators and educators, who said they would continue to prioritize improving diversity and inclusion at their schools even as they navigate Thursday's decision.
In an address delivered shortly after the decision was announced, President Biden said the court had "once again walked away from decades of precedent," and urged colleges to continue their push for more diverse student bodies on campus.
"While the court can render a decision, it cannot change what America stands for," Biden said. "America's an idea, unique in the world, an idea of hope and opportunity, of possibilities, of giving everyone a fair shot, of leaving no one behind. We've never fully lived up to it, but we've never walked away from it either."
This is a developing story and will be updated.
This article was originally published on June 29, 2023.