After he denounced a landmark ruling by six conservative justices restricting affirmative action in college admissions and declared that “we cannot let the decision be a permanent setback for the country,” President Joe Biden said the Supreme Court “is not a normal court.”
The comment came as Biden was walking away from a White House lectern after delivering prepared remarks. He was asked about criticism of the ruling by the Congressional Black Caucus and whether he thought it was a “rogue court.”
Biden stopped, turned and said, “This is not a normal court.”
Asked about the comment later in an interview with MSNBC, the president pointed to Thursday’s ruling and one last year that struck down the right to an abortion and said the court seems to go out of its way to “unravel rights.” He said he thought the relatively young conservative majority “may do too much harm,” but he insisted he was against proposals to add additional justices to offset that.
“I think if we start the process of trying to expand the court, we’re going to politicize it maybe forever in a way that is not healthy,” Biden said on MSNBC. “I think that some of the court are beginning to realize their legitimacy is being questioned in ways that it hadn’t been questioned in the past.”
The statement from Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford, D-Nev., and the group’s members did not describe the court as rogue. But it called the ruling “radical” because it would deny young people educational opportunity. “The Supreme Court has thrown into question its own legitimacy,” the CBC said.
Biden, in his remarks at the White House, stressed that colleges and universities should still consider factors related to diversity despite the ruling, which found admissions programs at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina violated the 14th Amendment by discriminating against applicants whose race was not preferred, such as Asian students.
“It’s a simple fact: If a student has … had to overcome adversity on the path to education, the college should recognize and value that,” Biden said. “Our nation’s colleges and universities should be engines of expanding opportunity through upward mobility.”
The White House outlined planned executive actions in response to the Supreme Court’s opinion ending.
Among the actions is advocating that colleges and universities continue to consider a variety of life experiences, including family financial status and prospective students’ “personal experiences of hardship or discrimination, including racial discrimination.”
According to a White House fact sheet, the Justice Department and the Department of Education intend to release guidance on what admissions criteria are still lawful within the next 45 days, in order to make sure the new rules of the road are clear before the next academic year’s admissions cycle.
Speaking from the White House ahead of a previously planned fundraising trip to New York City, the president also discouraged companies from interpreting the Supreme Court’s opinion as cause to dial back diversity and inclusion programs.
As Biden and other Democrats across the country blasted the 6-3 opinion, Republicans lauded the new restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate and a 2024 GOP presidential candidate, questioned in a Fox News interview whether admission to an elite university is the path to prosperity.
“It is actually going as high as your character, your grit and your talent will take you,” Scott said. “That means, whether you go to Harvard, Charleston Southern, or whether you want to be a plumber or a welder, you too can experience your version of the American dream.”
In the interview, Scott criticized affirmative action in general, saying, “Sending the message that somehow the color of your skin means that you will not be able to achieve your goals from an educational perspective, from an income perspective, or family formation, that is a lie from the pit of hell.”
Scott’s South Carolina Republican colleague, Sen. Lindsey Graham, praised the opinion of the court delivered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
“Providing benefits to one group at the expense of another, who have done nothing wrong, has never been fair,” Graham, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court rightly decided race conscience decisions, pitting one group against another, are wrong. It was a long overdue decision.”
Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., on the other hand, said, “The impact of this decision will be felt immediately, as universities struggle to adapt to a troubling new reality that ignores the compelling and valuable interest of diversity in a student body — and students of color will face admissions cycles that devalue their lived experience in America.”
Some lawmakers called for Congress to act, such as Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson, who called for passage of a bill to expand the number of justices on the court so Biden could make appointments while Democrats have a Senate majority. But such efforts went nowhere when Democrats controlled both chambers in the last Congress and have no chance of passing a Republican-controlled House.
Public opinion ahead of the Supreme Court decision has been decidedly mixed. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in late March and early April found 50 percent of respondents disapproving of the use of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions at elite schools, with just one-third in support. A clear majority of Black respondents approved of affirmative action in such cases, but that was the only race or ethnic group for which that was true.
The Conference of National Black Churches, which counts among its membership the largest historically Black congregations, stressed the importance of bringing the issue to the polls.
“Our response must be seen and felt in November — not only this year but in the years to come,“ Chairman W. Franklyn Richardson said in a statement. “We must take this assault as an occasion to renew our resolve.”
Michael Macagnone contributed to this report.