Opinion: SCOTUS rulings on race neutrality threaten health

July 28, 2023 – On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two rulings that struck down the use of affirmative action in college admission decisions, declaring that race cannot be considered as a factor. While the decisions focused on education, they could worsen racial disparities across all sectors of society, including health, according to Michelle Williams, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“The justices seek to assure the public that eliminating race from consideration will usher in an era of true equality. But this is a myopic view. Our default setting as a society is far from neutral,” wrote Williams in a July 10 opinion article in JAMA, co-authored with Lawrence Gostin, University Professor at Georgetown University, and Harald Schmidt, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Noting that there are very few Black physicians—a legacy of structural racism—the authors wrote that the SCOTUS rulings could threaten Black admissions at medical schools. This in turn could impact Black people’s health, they added, pointing out that evidence has shown that Black people living in counties with more Black primary care physicians have lower mortality rates.

In a separate opinion article published July 5 in the Hill, the authors wrote that more work needs to be done to create a society where everyone has an equal opportunity to live up to their full potential. “To get there, we must adopt laws, policies and practices that explicitly address and redress the harms of systemic racism in education, health care, and beyond,” they wrote.

Read the opinion article in the Hill: Myopic SCOTUS ruling on race-neutrality threatens our collective future

Read the opinion article in JAMA: The Supreme Court’s Rulings on Race Neutrality Threaten Progress in Medicine and Health