The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) used his last day in office to weigh in on the recent U.S. Supreme Court affirmative action ruling. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II says the high court’s decision announced Thursday to bar colleges and universities from considering race as a specific bias for admission “has set racial equity in the U.S. back by decades.”

View of marble columns and greek classical architecture of the United States Supreme Court building with sunrise in background.

The United States Supreme Court building.

The decision grew out of a lawsuit filed against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill over their use of race-conscious admissions, arguing that equal standards and merits should be the main considerations.

Full Statement

For years, I worked across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court with the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, but I have never felt the gut punch that I have felt in the last year between its decision in 2022 to toss out Roe v. Wade and the news on Thursday regarding affirmative action. This conservative- dominated panel has set racial equity in the U.S. back by decades. The high court’s decision to no longer consider race as a factor for granting admission to colleges and universities will drastically impact students of color in their pursuit of higher education. The court’s majority opinion can sugarcoat its decision any way it wants, but the fact remains that this is a direct slap in the face for racial justice in this country.

Affirmative action opened the doors for thousands of students of color over the years who had the drive, grades, and passion for learning, but lacked the financial resources and influence to get into higher level schools. It helped level the playing field for many who have later excelled as lawyers, corporate executives, doctors, and lawmakers. Now universities and colleges across the country will be faced with the challenge of finding other ways to help Black and Latino students reach their scholastic goals. Many experts say the decision could result in a significant drop in the number of students of color attending select universities and colleges around the country.

These discriminatory decisions and actions send us back to a nation that we have been trying for years to move away from. It breaks the backbone of diversity, thought, and the possibility of building a more diverse and committed society. It prevents us from building a more perfect union that sees all individuals as potential leaders and what this nation could become if done the right way.

I have had the great honor of serving this denomination for many years, an opportunity I would not have had if not for the education and training I received at some of the finest institutions in the country. I grieve for those who seek the same opportunities and pray that our leaders will change the course set by these unfair decisions and right the wrongs we are seeing.

In God’s Mercy,

J. Herbert Nelson, II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)