In six to three and six to two rulings along ideological lines, the Supreme Court rejected the use of race as a factor in college admissions on Thursday. The decisions involved two separate legal challenges – one over how Harvard University (a private institution) and the University of North Carolina (a public college) decide who to admit.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the court’s majority decision and was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. They ultimately decided both violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Ketanji Brown Jackson were in the dissent, along with much of the media and progressive left, including former First Lady Michelle Obama.
On Thursday’s show, Megyn was joined by Jason Riley, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of Maverick, to discuss the hysterical reaction to the decision and why the focus needs to shift to K through 12 education.
The Goal Should Be Graduates
There are nine states that have previously banned affirmative action policies in higher education, dating back to California in 1996. Studies show that, in the immediate aftermath, the more selective schools did see a decrease in Black and Latino enrollment numbers. Over time, however, they rebounded while graduation rates at other universities increased.
In his view, the “problem” with affirmative action is that it results “in higher dropout rates or switching to easier majors where you can handle the work.” In the University of California system, Riley said that even though there was a drop-off at Berkeley and UCLA initially, black enrollment and graduation rates went up overall because students were attending schools that suited them better. “I think that is the the better outcome, he said. “It’s not a sort of Yale or jail world – you can graduate from a good state school and go on and have a very productive life.”
Megyn likened it to her own experience. “I went to Syracuse University,” she said. “If somebody had put me into Harvard where I didn’t belong – my grades would never have gotten me in – it would have been an utterly frustrating failure for me, whereas… I did well enough [at Syracuse] to get myself into law school… and all the rest of it… and that’s true of everybody.”
This is true of Black students, legacy students, student athletes, and any other person who does not meet the academic standards required for admission. “This is not a racial issue per se,” Riley said. “Any time you admit a student to a school who doesn’t meet the credentials of the average student at that school… they’re going to congregate in the bottom of the class… and they’re going to struggle.” That’s why the end goal should be higher graduation rates. “At the end of the day, we want a college graduate to go out into the world who knows something and can apply what they’ve learned in college to their profession,” he emphasized. “That’s what we want.”
Michelle Obama Reacts
Not everyone shares that sentiment. Former First Lady Michelle Obama wasted no time posting a lengthy statement on Twitter about how her “heart breaks” for young people today who may not have the experience she did as a Black woman at Ivy League institutions like Princeton.
“Back in college, I was one of the few Black students on my campus, and I was proud of getting into such a respected school,” she wrote. “I knew I’d worked hard for it. But still, I sometimes wondered if people thought I got in because of affirmative action… The fact is: I belonged.”
She went on to lament what she see as fundamental flaws with the admissions system:
“Students on my campus and countless others across the country were – and continue to be – granted special consideration for admissions. Some of parents who graduated from the same school. Others have families who can afford coaches to help them run faster and hit a ball harder. Others go to high schools with lavish resources for tutors and extensive standardized test prep that help them score higher on college entrance exams. We don’t usually question if those students belong. So often, we just accept that money, power, and privilege are perfectly justifiable forms of affirmative action, while kids growing up like I did are expected to compete when the ground is anything but level.”
Megyn took issue with Obama’s premise that her concerns only apply to Black students. “Michelle… I’m white, and I didn’t have any of those advantages,” she shared. “I showed up the day of the SAT and was like, ‘It’s the SAT, today?’ My friend loaned me a pencil.” As she explained, she “never took a review class” because her family “didn’t have the money” for it. “It’s not just a Black thing, but she and other progressives are going to completely tie the racial inequity and its ongoing nature to this decision,” she said.
Why the Focus Needs to Be on K-12 Education
The irony of the reactions from Obama and other progressives, in Riley’s view, is that these are the very same people who “oppose policies that in theory would obviate the need for affirmative action in college admissions.”
By that he means the deep-seated problems with the kindergarten through twelfth grade education system in the United States. “This is a K to 12 education issue,” Riley said. “You cannot sit down at age 17, given the inequality that exists in our K-12 education system, and expect every 17 year old in this country to be on an equal playing field when it comes to taking [the SAT].”
That is why, he said, the focus needs to be on the root causes of the lack of diversity on elite college campuses. “Our focus should be on things like school choice, on letting parents decide which schools are best for their kids,” Riley shared. “We know that there are models out there that can produce Black kids and white kids, poor kids and rich kids, who will do well on that SAT test.” The problem “is scaling up those models to meet demand,” he said, because “the Michelle Obamas of the world are opposed to many of these school choice measures – vouchers and so forth – that would give parents the ability to send their kids to the schools where they would be able to excel and be ready when they sit down to take that test.”
Ultimately, he hopes this SCOTUS ruling will shed a light on that. “You have black kids graduating from high school reading at an eighth-grade level – the idea that you’re going to make that up with a few remedial classes freshman year at Duke is ridiculous,” Riley concluded. “You’re not, so we really need to be focused on the K through 12 education system and, hopefully, there will be a little more of that given this decision.”
You can check out Megyn’s full analysis of the SCOTUS decision by tuning in to episode 578 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.