Nearly 20 years ago, then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ruled in favor of using race in college admissions but ominously warned that the clock was ticking on affirmative action.

She gave it 25 years.

But given the conservative majority now on the Supreme Court — and the tenacity of affirmative action opponents — the end of the 1960s-era policy designed to right the wrongs of the past may come sooner.

As Travis Knoll, a University of North Carolina Charlotte associate professor of history, writes, ending such programs would have a significant impact on an unlikely organization — the U.S. military, its four service academies and its ROTC programs on college campuses across the country.

On the battlefield, Knoll writes, the lack of a diversified officers corps is a matter of life and death — as the U.S. military painfully learned during the Vietnam War.

It’s unclear whether the Supreme Court will heed the lessons from military officials. The court heard oral arguments on Oct. 31, 2022, and based on the questions from conservative justices, the goal of having diverse campuses may rest on a college’s ability to develop race-neutral policies.

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Howard Manly

Race + Equity Editor

The U.S. Supreme Court in its official portrait on Oct. 7, 2022. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Conservative US Supreme Court reconsidering affirmative action, leaving the use of race in college admissions on the brink of extinction

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The US Supreme Court is poised to determine the fate of the use of race in college admissions. Supporters of affirmative action, like the military, fear the worst.

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