Send Affirmative Action to the Ash Heap of History | Opinion

The Supreme Court is set to revise its permission slip allowing colleges and universities to use race as a factor in admissions decisions. Later this term, the Court will decide whether Harvard and the University of North Carolina illegally discriminated against academically qualified applicants—particularly, highly qualified Asian Americans—based on their race and ethnicity in favor of other preferred races.

The only question, really, is whether the Court will merely narrow its approval or completely shred its decades-long endorsement of racial discrimination. As a black UNC alumnus, I hope the Court not only shreds but burns every remnant of this injustice—and tosses what's left onto the ash heap of history.

First sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, affirmative action has been employed in college admissions for over 40 years. It is, therefore, no exaggeration to say that race preferences in college admissions is one of the last and longest-surviving examples of overt institutional racism in America. Advocates for eliminating institutional, structural or systemic racism should abhor the practice.

Affirmative action was born out of a noble desire to atone for our country's many sins against racial and ethnic minorities. I don't want to besmirch the good intentions of those who dreamt up the seemingly reparative scheme or many of those who still support it. However, that dream has matured into a nightmare in which no one, on balance, benefits from the practice—not even the minorities it is supposedly most intended to help.

In 2003 the Supreme Court took to a whole new level its doctrine permitting race-conscious admissions for the purported educational benefits of a diverse student body. The doctrine, announced in its Grutter v. Bollinger decision, was a 180-degree departure from unambiguously colorblind law prohibiting discrimination "on the ground of race, color, or national origin."

UNC campus
CHAPEL HILL, NC - AUGUST 18: A student studies outside the closed Wilson Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 18, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The school halted in-person classes and reverted back to online courses after a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past week. Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

It just so happens that this decision took place less than one year before I became the only one of my mother's three black children to earn a high school diploma. After serving in the U.S. Navy, I earned my bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina. I am the first and still only of my siblings to be awarded such an honor.

Those educational accomplishments—in addition to later earning a law degree—brought me, my family and friends and the communities that helped shape me great joy. At the same time, a nagging resentment lingers, thanks to UNC's enthusiasm for race-based admissions.

That zeal for race preferences—likely a factor in the decision to admit me to the university—cheapens my otherwise notable accomplishments and those of other college students guilty of nothing more than being born a minority in America.

There is a tragic irony, now, in the fact that President Joe Biden has announced he will fill the Supreme Court vacancy arising from Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement with a black woman. One of the first matters the new justice, selected at least in part based on her skin color, may handle is whether it is lawful for colleges and universities to select students at least in part based on their skin color.

The next Supreme Court justice deserves to be judged solely on what will no doubt be stellar legal credentials and sterling character, not her skin color or gender. The same is true for every other American citizen—including those who would be demeaned as a "diversity admit" or "diversity hire."

It is past time for the Court to bring an end to legally authorized racial preferences in American life. It can start by replacing affirmative action in college admissions.

Devon Westhill is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.