The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) as well as numerous Catholic universities blasted the U.S. Supreme Court’s Thursday decision to overturn affirmative action in higher education.

In a June 29 press release, the ACCU called the court’s decision “more than disappointing,” saying that it ignores “the more-than-apparent effects of continued racism in our society.”

In a controversial 6-3 decision penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, the nation’s highest court effectively struck down public and private universities’ ability to include race-based affirmative action in their admissions decisions.

“In doing so,” the ACCU said, the court “undermines the work that higher education has voluntarily taken on for many decades to be a solution in a society that provides too few solutions for this social evil [racism].”

The ACCU, the self-described “voice of Catholic higher education,” said that “within the bounds articulated by this latest decision” it would continue to be guided by Catholic social teaching “to create paths by which those in society who do not have opportunity find it at our institutions.” 

For decades, many universities have used affirmative action in their admissions programs to increase minority representation on their campuses. However, some have argued that affirmative action promotes the admission of certain ethnic minorities at the expense of others, often negatively impacting Asian students. 

In the ruling, Roberts wrote that “Harvard’s consideration of race has led to an 11.1% decrease in the number of Asian-Americans admitted to Harvard.”

Thursday’s decision concerned the affirmative action programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina but will impact all universities across the nation, including Catholic institutions.

Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University President John DeGioia issued a statement Thursday decrying the court’s decision and vowing that the university would “remain committed” to “recruit, enroll, and support students from all backgrounds to ensure an enriching educational experience.”

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In 2022, Georgetown, a Jesuit school, led a coalition of Catholic universities and colleges in filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of affirmative action.

In its brief, which was cited in Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion, Georgetown argued for the “allowance of the use of race as one factor among others in college and university admissions policies.”

According to Georgetown’s brief, “the free exercise of religion provides additional constitutional weight to the compelling interest in racial diversity in admissions for the Catholic institutions of higher learning.”

Georgetown’s amicus brief was joined by The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and 55 other Catholic universities and colleges from across the country.

Sotomayor was the only Catholic on the Supreme Court who supported affirmative action in the recent ruling. Roberts as well as Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett — all of whom are Catholic — sided with the majority.

Yet the response to Thursday’s ruling from Catholic institutions in the U.S. has been largely negative, albeit limited. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has not issued any type of statement on the ruling.

Eduardo Peñalver, president of the Jesuit Seattle University, called the ruling “disappointing” in a Thursday statement, saying that it “will likely hinder the ability of many universities to achieve a diverse student body.”

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Peñalver further said that the decision may particularly impact Seattle University’s operations as a Catholic institution.

“Our foundation in the Jesuit educational tradition makes us different from other institutions of higher learning,” Peñalver said. “Today’s decision leaves unanswered important and unsettled questions about how the court’s restrictions on the consideration of race in admissions interacts with our constitutional right to the free exercise and expression of our Jesuit, Catholic values.”

“We are actively exploring the implications of today’s decision for those questions,” Peñalver said. “In the meantime, we will make every effort to continue to recruit and retain students who reflect the diversity of the world we are preparing our students to lead.”

Santa Clara University, a Catholic university in California, also criticized the ruling in a statement by President Julie Sullivan that said the decision “places a substantial burden on our freedom to recognize aspiring and current students as ‘whole’ human beings.”

Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., released an official statement as well in which she said: “The Roberts opinion is utterly devoid of cultural context or even acknowledgment of the legacy and still-real presence of racial injustice in our society.” 

In a statement on its website, Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles said: “We are disheartened by this decision and stand with other Catholic colleges and universities in our concern about the impact of these rulings on students across our country.” 

The University of Notre Dame released a more measured response. President Rev. John Jenkins said the university will “study the Supreme Court’s decision and consider any implications for our admissions process as we strive to fulfill our distinctive mission.”

“At Notre Dame, our Catholic mission compels us to build a class reflecting the diversity of experiences and gifts of the human family,” Jenkins said. “We undertake a comprehensive assessment of applicants, admit talented students with interests and aspirations consonant with our mission, and provide opportunities for a wide range of young people. These commitments are as meaningful today at Notre Dame as they were yesterday.”