IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

GOP senator presses colleges to comply with Supreme Court affirmative action ruling

Sen. JD Vance of Ohio suggested there could be dangerous consequences if schools don’t comply with last week's ruling.
Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, at the Capitol on June 1, 2023.
Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, at the Capitol on June 1.Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Freshman Sen. JD Vance is warning liberal arts colleges and Ivy League schools not to disregard the Supreme Court's recent ruling striking down affirmative action policies in the admissions process.

In a letter Thursday to Ivy League schools, as well as Kenyon and Oberlin colleges in his home state, the Ohio Republican expressed concern about what he called their "openly defiant and potentially unlawful reaction to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision" last week.

"As you know, the Court has instructed you to honor the spirit, and not just the letter, of the ruling," he wrote, adding, "You and your institutions expressed open hostility to the decision and seemed to announce an intention to circumvent it."

The senator then listed quotes from the schools addressed in his letter that they issued in response to the ruling. None of the statements indicated that the schools planned to sidestep the decision — instead, they emphasized their commitment to creating diverse campuses.

In response to the court's ruling, which focused on the affirmative action programs at the University of North Carolina and Harvard, Harvard reaffirmed their commitment to “the fundamental principle that deep and transformative teaching, learning and research depend upon a community comprising people of many backgrounds, perspectives and lived experiences.”

They added in their statement that the school will now “determine how to preserve, consistent with the court’s new precedent, our essential values."

Vance, however, argued that such statements are "particularly disconcerting in light of recent revelations that proponents of unlawful affirmative action sometimes practice 'unstated affirmative action.'" That's when "hiring and admissions decisions are made on the basis of race in a covert and unspoken way," he added.

Vance, who was elected in 2022 and attended Ohio State University and Yale Law School, suggested there could be dangerous consequences if higher education institutions don't comply with the law, saying that there has been an "ugly history of defiance and lawlessness that followed other landmark Supreme Court rulings demanding racial equality in education." One example, he said, was when a governor of Virginia responded to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 by pledging to show the nation that racial integration wouldn't be accepted in the South.

"Violence and racial animosity ensued," Vance said of the response to the governor's comments.

The Senate "is prepared to use its full investigative powers to uncover circumvention, covert or otherwise, of the Supreme Court’s ruling," he said. "You are advised to retain admissions documents in anticipation of future congressional investigations, including digital communications between admissions officers, any demographic or other data compiled during future admissions cycles, and other relevant materials."

Vance asked the recipients of the letter to answer a series of questions by July 21, including about procedures used to ensure that records are retained and what admissions practices previously used will now be forbidden.

"If you have publicly committed to an interest in 'diversity,' how will you ensure that your commitment to that value does not entail direct or indirect race-based preferences?" the senator asked the schools.

NBC News has all the recipients of Vance's letter for comment.

A spokesperson for Oberlin said the school would comply with the law, while a spokesperson for Harvard pointed to a previous statement in which the university said it would "certainly comply" with the Supreme Court decision.

Columbia declined to comment.

CORRECTION (July 6, 2023, 9:57 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when Vance was elected to the Senate. It was in 2022, not 2002.