BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor and forcing institutions of higher education to look for new ways to achieve diverse student bodies.

The court’s conservative majority effectively overturned cases reaching back 45 years in invalidating admissions plans at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest private and public colleges, respectively.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and many other leaders in Western New York have condemned this action by SCOTUS. Several colleges and universities in the region have voiced their concerns with the latest ruling from the nation’s highest court. One legal expert told News 4 about what we could see happen next, after the overturn of nearly 50 years of precedent.

“Here the Supreme Court has shown a willingness. They’ve gutted Title IX, they’ve gutted Roe v. Wade, they’ve gutted Affirmative Action cases,” Barry Covert, constitutional lawyer at Lipstiz, Green, Scime, Cambria, LLP., told News 4.

The decision, like last year’s momentous abortion ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, marked the realization of a long-sought conservative legal goal, this time finding that race-conscious admissions plans violate the Constitution and a law that applies to colleges that receive federal funding, as almost all do.

“It was never permitted that race would be the only factor. No court has ever ruled that. The Supreme Court until today has ruled that race could be one of the factors that they look at,” Covert explained. “Now the Supreme Court is saying that you really can’t use that, you really can’t include that as one of the factors, but sort of leaves a back door open and says in some individual cases it can be taken into account.”

Colleges and universities are speaking out, including the SUNY Chancellor and board of trustees. They called this an egregious ruling and said the decision undermines the progress that has been made.

Today, the US Supreme Court attempted to pull our nation backwards in the journey toward equity and civil rights with an egregious ruling that will have serious impacts on students and families seeking the American dream of opportunity through higher education.

Today’s decision threatens to undermine what progress has been made, by throwing up roadblocks and barriers when what’s needed are better paths and bridges.

John B. King, SUNY Chancellor

“This is a major step backwards in terms of racial equity for colleges and universities across the country. We see this as a step in the wrong direction for promoting democracy,” Brian Emerson, executive vice president at Villa Maria College, said.

Villa Maria College says it does not use this type of admission strategy and believes it is a step ahead of larger, more competitive schools.

“We create policies and procedures to welcome students to our college, to make access and affordability a top priority. We’re not going to change any of our admissions and practices because of the court’s decision, we’re already ahead of the game,” Emerson added.

Democrats are also speaking out against the ruling, including Mayor Brown who spoke on News 4 at 5:30.

“I think it will hurt the chances and opportunities for minority people all across this country,” Mayor Brown said.

Gov. Hochul agrees and said New York celebrates diversity and inclusion.

“Diversity is an important part of who we are. We celebrate this in the state of New York. We want to make sure that our educational institutions are the, the ladder two opportunity for millions of new Yorkers remains open to all,” Hochul said.

The University at Buffalo, Niagara University and St. Bonaventure University all released statements Thursday condemning the ruling.

As a scholarly community grounded in values of social justice, we are committed to cultivating a diverse, equitable and welcoming academic environment for all of our students, faculty and staff. We recognize that UB thrives because of our diversity.

With this analysis of the ruling underway, allow me to reaffirm that our values of social justice will continue to guide us in our expression of our university mission.

Satish Tripathi, University at Buffalo President

As such, this ruling, especially when the country seems more divided, will make it harder to create an environment where all are welcomed, respected, supported and encouraged to succeed. We know the value of a college education and we know that access to a quality college education is still difficult for many. At Niagara, we are now and will continue to be committed to creating an environment where all can be successful and we will continue to ensure that individuals from every background will be allowed to thrive.

James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara University President

As an institution that has worked at accessibility issues in many different ways, the ruling will not impact our efforts to diversify our student body. We have programs and processes in place to welcome students, regardless of race, who have proven they deserve an opportunity no matter their economic situation.  Still, the ruling ignores the realities of a society that has yet to come close to providing equal opportunity for underrepresented people and runs counter to the idea that as a society we are concerned about improving the lives of all of our people. What better way is there to help level our still-tilted playing field than increasing educational opportunity?

Jeff Gingerich, St. Bonaventure University President


Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.