The presidents of the two largest teachers' unions in the United States decried the Supreme Court's Thursday decision to end affirmative action, saying it will keep intact the country's "caste system" and was "as bad" as the decision last year to overrule Roe v. Wade.
"It is basically saying that whatever caste system we have right now—that should stay intact," said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in a conversation with National Education Association president Becky Pringle. Weingarten said the decision is "as bad as Dobbs," the Supreme Court's ruling last year that there was no constitutional right to abortion.
"It is 2023, and we are having Supreme Court decisions that are taking us further backwards in the progress that we've made," Pringle said.
The union leaders' reactions come after the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, on Thursday struck down the use of race-based affirmative action in college admissions. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, wrote that "eliminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it." Weingarten and Pringle echoed dissents from Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Both unions filed amicus briefs urging the Court to allow colleges to continue using race as a factor in college admissions. With more than three million members, the National Education Association is the largest teachers' union in the country, followed by American Federation of Teachers with 1.7 million members, according to the organizations.
Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for the Defense of Freedom Institute and former Education Department press secretary, told the Washington Free Beacon that union leaders should be supporting the Supreme Court's decision.
"If teachers' union bosses truly wanted what's best for students, they would be celebrating the end of race-based discrimination in college admissions," Morabito said. "The best thing Randi Weingarten and Becky Pringle could do to help minority students is to stop trapping them in failing government-assigned schools and get out of the way of school choice programs that students need and parents deserve."
During a Thursday live-streamed conversation, Weingarten described what she would say in class if she were a civics teacher.
"If I was teaching this decision tomorrow in class, what I would be doing is I would be actually pulling together … the arc of the moral universe," said Weingarten, "what we have tried to do from the Civil War, the end of the Civil War, to the Civil Rights Movement and how this just throws a wrench into all that progress."
Weingarten questioned whether she would be allowed to teach about the decision if she were a teacher in Florida because of the state's "restrictions on the teaching of honest history."
"I might be really in trouble in teaching about this decision—in trouble in teaching about the dissents of this decision," Weingarten said.
Florida's "Stop WOKE Act," signed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R.), explicitly requires the teaching of the "history of African Americans," including "the enslavement experience, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans to society."
The Court's opinion was part of the continuing backlash to former president Barack Obama's election, Pringle said.
"We knew when President Obama was elected there was going to be a backlash—we knew that," Pringle said. "I don't think we quite grasped the depth of it until we started to see that the highest court in the land is totally rejecting the notions, the ideals, on which this country was founded."
Weingarten cited Alexis de Tocqueville's description of America, saying Tocqueville recognized the country's "diversity and how that made us stronger."
"We're going back to 'Is America a salad bowl, a melting pot?'" Weingarten said. "Or is it what this decision is saying, which is we can all be in our separate fiefdoms and tribes and never any one of us meet?"
Weingarten said the Court's majority opinion advocated ignorance of racial inequities in today's America.
"What this decision does is basically ignore the original sin of slavery and the effects of that original sin and pretends that there is no longer an effect to it," Weingarten said. "It basically says that equal protection means that whatever the dominant power play is right now, that's what should be happening in America."
Roberts's opinion and other justices' concurrences presented a different view of American history and the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurrence that the "great failure of this country was slavery and its progeny" but presented an optimistic view of the nation's future.
"While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination," Thomas wrote, "I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law."