On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings on two cases involving the consideration of race in college admissions. The two cases along with the vote in each case in the ruling were Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University (6-2 vote) and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (6-3 vote). The rulings by the Supreme Court ended the practice of affirmative action in college admissions that was established in a decision handed down by the court in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978. The June 29 decision held that “college admission policies that include race as a factor were unconstitutional and, therefore, not lawful under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” (Probasco, 2023)
Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court: “Because Harvard’s and UNC’s admissions programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful endpoints, those admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause.” (Probasco, 2023)
In a response to the Supreme Court decision, a group of 13 Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to Fortune 100 CEOs with their interpretation the Supreme Court decision urging that the CEOs comply with the “race-neutral-principles” of the June 29 Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. In other words, corporate DEI initiatives, especially those that apply racial quotas and race-based preferences, are now illegal in the corporate setting. (Peregrine, 2023)
In his article in Forbes, Peregrine has the following advice for companies, especially those in the thirteen states where the attorneys general signed the July 13 letter.
- Companies will need to be aware of the legal, social, and organizational issues of the June 29 ruling and of the Letter.
- Companies should evaluate whether changes should be made in the existing DEI policies, contracting practices, and director nomination processes to see if the processes are problematic.
- Due to the June 29 ruling, company’s may need to reorient their DEI approach to be one with a more direct understanding of the legal and reputational concerns arising in this new environment.
- Corporate leaders will need to continue support of DEI principles with awareness of the new landscape created by the ruling and Letter and be apolitical in their response to the Letter.
Fortunately, there was a rebuttal to the letter sent from the 13 Republican state attorneys general through a letter signed by 20 Democratic state attorneys general. Aside from politics, the Democratic attorneys general letter made it clear that racial disparities are not necessarily unlawful and that corporate DEI programs should continue moving forward as they are legal and valuable. The letter also validated that
private companies, under the SCOTUS decision, are still allowed to continue to expand access to employment and contracting opportunities to underrepresented populations. The Republican letter was viewed as a bully tactic and attempt to minimize any progress and momentum attempted by corporate America.
Supplier Diversity realized an increase in awareness after the 2020 social unrest movement. Corporations began investing not only in developing diverse suppliers but providing actual opportunities that did not exist previously. While the playing field was still far from being leveled, momentum continued to manifest in the proliferation of supplier diversity jobs created by corporate America. This is not the time to stop moving forward, regardless of the threats that exist against the strategy of diversifying supply chains in corporate America. Instead, corporations and organizations need to double down and invest in supplier diversity programs that are legally defensible and economically impactful. Key points regarding this situation are as follows:
· Of the 13 states represented in the Republican letter, 8 were slave states with historical and systemic racism against Blacks. All had negative histories against Native Americans and other ethnic groups.
o 11 of the 13 states had anti-miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriages until after the Civil Rights era
· According to the “2022 State of Supplier Diversity Report” conducted by supplier.io, diverse suppliers make up only 3.1% of most corporations’ spend, so the disadvantage against them is obvious. Supplier Diversity is merely a way to protect them from becoming extinct, similar to the way the government protects endangered species. Since historical percentages with minority businesses have been historically low, there is no evidence of a “preference” that positively impacts minority businesses.
Supplier Diversity is not about discriminating against any particular group but more about establishing a fair platform for all suppliers by increasing the awareness of our supply chain inefficiencies as they relate to contracting. Supplier Diversity helps Caucasian owned businesses through its support of small businesses, women owned businesses, LGBTQ owned businesses, and disabled owned businesses, most of which are owned by Caucasians.
Racial inferiority has been a systemic problem for corporations since the existence of corporations. Supplier Diversity and DEI programs do not create any racial disparities that benefit minorities. The majority of supply chain spend is with publicly owned and Caucasian owned companies, so the only disparity remains to be between opportunities provided to minority owned businesses versus non-minority owned. Any advancements of lawsuits resulting from the Republican letter could backfire as it opens the door to a significant increase of diversity spend after the workforce and corporate leaders rally against it. It also could lead to minority businesses suing corporations for their underlying tactics of racial preference in contracting while being able to use historically low percentages as proof of system injustices that have existed since the formation of corporations.
Let us all continue to build supplier diversity programs that support underrepresented groups. The more those groups thrive, the greater impact on our economy global. Diversity of thought is an asset, not a barrier. Diversity in a supply chain creates efficiencies as more viable options are created for buyers. We applaud corporations and organizations that have become more aggressive in their pursuit of supply chain parity, because their voices matter
“2022 State of Supplier Diversity Report”, supplier.io
Peregrine, M. (2023, July 18). Forbes. Retrieved from Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelperegrine/2023/07/18/state-attorney-generals-warning-to-ceos-may-chill-dei-initiatives
Probasco, J. (2023, July 18). Supreme Court 2023 Rulings on Affirmative Action Explained. Retrieved from Investopedia: https://www.investopedia.com/supreme-court-affirmative-action-decision-2023-7555848#