President Biden chastised the U.S. Supreme Court following its affirmative action ruling but previously led a fight against school desegregation.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court rejected using race as a factor in college admissions as a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The ruling was considered a significant blow to affirmative action policies at major universities such as Harvard that sought to create a more “diverse” campus by favoring Black and Hispanic students over Whites and Asian Americans.
Left-wing politicians and activists roundly criticized the decision. Biden joined the chorus by directly attacking the high court over what he said was a rejection of long-standing precedent.
“In case after case, including recently, just a few years ago in 2016, the court has affirmed and reaffirmed this view that colleges could use race, not as a determining factor for admission, but as one of the factors among many in deciding who to admit,” Biden said, adding that “the court once again walked away from decades of precedent” and that he “strongly, strongly” disagrees with the decision.
Biden declared this is “not a normal court” while leaving the press conference.
Despite Biden’s strong disapproval of the decision, he once was a primary figure in the fight against school desegregation. His prior stance became fodder for his Democratic presidential opponents during the 2020 election, including now Vice President Kamala Harris, who attacked him over the views he espoused in the past.
As a freshman Delaware senator, Biden stood at the front lines of fighting against integrating Black and White students in schools. In a 1975 Senate hearing, then-NAACP Legal Defense Fund director Jack Greenberg set his sights on Biden for sponsoring a bill limiting the court’s power to use buses to desegregate schools.
During the hearing, Greenberg said the bill “heaves a brick through the window of school integration,” NBC News reported in 2019. “And according to Greenberg, Biden was the man with his hand on the brick,” the publication wrote on Greenberg’s views.
The Washington Post also focused on Biden’s opposition to desegregation in a 2019 piece. “Biden took a lead role in the fight, speaking out repeatedly and forcefully against sending white children to majority-black schools and black children to majority-white schools,” the Post wrote. “He played down the persistence of overt racism and suggested that the government should have a limited role in integration.”
The Post’s article included a quote Biden provided to a Delaware newspaper in 1975, in which he said he does not “buy the concept” Black individuals have been oppressed for hundreds of years.
“I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the Black man for 300 years and the White man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers,” Biden told the Delaware newspaper. “In order to even the score, we must now give the Black man a head start, or even hold the White man back, to even the race. I don’t buy that.”
Biden’s past views led to attacks from his Democratic opponents during the 2020 Democratic primary. Then-Sen. Kamala Harris said during a 2019 debate that she did not believe Biden is a racist, then pivoted to his previous segregation stance.
“You also worked with them to oppose busing,” Harris told Biden, referencing two segregationist senators. “You know there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
Others in the Democratic presidential field, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, piled onto Biden.
“Right now, the vice president is not doing a good job at bringing folks together,” Booker told NBC’s “Meet the Press” days after the Democratic debate. “In fact, he’s causing – and I’ve heard this from people all around the country – he’s causing a lot of frustration and even pain with his words.”
“What we’ve seen from the vice president over the last month is an inability to talk candidly about the mistakes he made about things he could’ve done better about how some of the decisions he made at the time in difficult context actually have resulted in really bad outcomes,” Booker said.
When reached for comment, the White House asked reporters for proof of Biden’s past opposition to desegregation but did not respond after being sent some of the above-referenced pieces.