The court’s conservative majority overturned admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.
Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have "concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual's identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in dissent that the decision "rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress."
In a separate dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson — the court's first Black female justice — called the decision "truly a tragedy for us all."
The Supreme Court had twice upheld race-conscious college admissions programs in the past 20 years, including as recently as 2016.
But that was before the three appointees of former President Donald Trump joined the court. At arguments in late October, all six conservative justices expressed doubts about the practice, which had been upheld under Supreme Court decisions reaching back to 1978.
Lower courts also had upheld the programs at both UNC and Harvard, rejecting claims that the schools discriminated against white and Asian-American applicants.
Most of Texas’ public universities had previously removed race as a consideration in admissions. The University of Texas at Austin still used race as well as the University of Houston’s Law Center. Two private schools — Southern Methodist University and Rice University also considered race.