What the affirmative action ruling means for healthcare: 5 leaders, groups react

The Supreme Court on June 29 ruled that U.S. colleges and universities cannot consider race as a factor for admissions in a pair of decisions industry leaders say could hinder efforts to create a more diverse healthcare workforce. 

The decisions settle two lawsuits applicants filed in 2014 — one against Chapel Hill-based University of North Carolina and one against Cambridge, Mass.-based Harvard University — alleging that the schools' affirmative action policies are unconstitutional. 

In their rulings against the University of North Carolina and Harvard, the Supreme Court determined that such race-based policies violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, according to The New York Times.

"Many universities have for too long wrongly concluded that the touchstone of an individual's identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned, but the color of their skin. This nation's constitutional history does not tolerate that choice," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion for the majority.

Here are five healthcare leaders and associations' responses to the rulings: 

Editor's note: Responses were edited for length and are presented in alphabetical order. 

Omar Atiq, MD. President of the American College of Physicians: "The American College of Physicians (ACP) was disappointed to see the Supreme Court decision issued today that rules against the use of affirmative action as a part of a college or university’s comprehensive admissions process. … Considering race as one of the many determining factors used when considering an individual'’s admission to an education program can be an important way to combat the harm that systemic racism and discrimination has in the United States." 

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra: "People of color have been excluded from attending medical school and joining medical organizations for generations. While progress has been made, there is still a significant deficit in the number of Black and Latino doctors and medical students. … This ruling will make it even more difficult for the nation's colleges and universities to help create future health experts and workers that reflect the diversity of our great nation. The health and well-being of Americans will suffer as a result."

Jesse Ehrenfeld, MD. President of the American Medical Association: "Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court undermines decades of progress centered on the educational value of diversity and will reverse gains made in the battle against health inequities. This ruling restricts medical schools from considering race and ethnicity among the multiple factors in admissions policies and will translate into a less diverse physician workforce. Diversity is vital to healthcare, and this court ruling deals a serious blow to our goal of increasing medical career opportunities for historically marginalized and minoritized people."

Molly Meegan. General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "The best way to ensure diversity in the medical workforce is through holistic considerations of medical school candidates that take into account race, ethnicity, and the lived experiences that each candidate could bring to their career as a physician because of their background. Comprehensive consideration of each medical student candidate as an individual can only benefit the communities for which they will ultimately provide care. More diversity in healthcare means better-educated physicians; higher quality of care; and healthier people, families and communities everywhere. Less diversity in healthcare can mean physicians who may be less equipped to connect with and treat the diverse patient populations they serve and patients with worse health outcomes, both of which cause entire communities to suffer."

David Skorton, MD, President and CEO, and Frank Trinity, Chief Legal Officer. Of the Association of American Medical Colleges: "We are deeply disappointed with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to dismantle its longstanding precedent in the 2003 case, Grutter v. Bollinger, which had recognized student body diversity as a compelling interest permitting the limited consideration of race in admissions. Today's decision demonstrates a lack of understanding of the critical benefits of racial and ethnic diversity in educational settings and a failure to recognize the urgent need to address health inequities in our country."

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