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Dueling groups of demonstrators face off holding signs that say "stop discriminating on the basis of race" and "we are the people."

Supporters and detractors of affirmative action faced off Thursday near the Supreme Court after the justices said the use of race-conscious admissions violated the U.S. Constitution.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

For Yukong Zhao, the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to strike down the use of race in college admissions was a “sweet and long-overdue victory.”

“Today we finally see the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court provide equal protection laws to our community,” said Zhao, a co-founder of the Asian American Coalition for Education, which was part of a group that filed a complaint with the Justice and Education Departments over Harvard University’s admission policies. “This is a victory for our community because our children will no longer be treated as second-class citizens in college admissions.”

The Supreme Court said that Harvard’s admissions policies, along with those at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Shortly after the decision was read, Zhao and more than a dozen others gathered in front of the Supreme Court building to celebrate.

Rally goers said Thursday was a day of justice for Asian Americans. They held balloons and waved American flags. The group brought signs proclaiming “Diversity ≠ Skin Color,” “Harvard No More Racial Stereotyping” and “Fix K-12. Do Not Scapegoat Asians.”

Demonstrators who support the Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action hold signs during a rally in front of the Supreme Court.

Yukong Zhao, a co-founder of the Asian American Coalition for Education, speaks at a rally in front of the Supreme Court on June 29. He says the Supreme Court’s decision is historic for Asian Americans—and all Americans.

Katherine Knott/Inside Higher Ed

Zhao said the decision was historic for all Americans because it preserves meritocracy, which he said is the bedrock of the American dream.

“Very importantly, the rulings will help advance America into a colorblind society, realizing Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream 60 years ago,” Zhao said. “He famously said he wants to see the four little children be judged by the content of their character, not by their skin color. We also want our children to be judged by the merit and the content of their character.”

During his remarks in front of the building, he thanked Students for Fair Admission, the group that sued Harvard and the University of North Carolina. He had to speak over loud music and jeers from counterprotesters.

“You don’t speak for all Asians,” one woman shouted at him.

The coalition’s rally was cut short when the Supreme Court police cleared the area in response to a report of a suspicious package, forcing the two groups of demonstrators together on the sidewalk, which led to a few tense and heated arguments over the issue of affirmative action.

“This is what America looks like,” another person yelled during one exchange, as the group in support of affirmative action cheered and danced to the music.

A person who attended the anti–affirmative action rally accused the group in support of trying to silence them.

Demonstrators gather and argue near the Supreme Court

After Supreme Court police cleared the area in front of the building, demonstrators protesting and celebrating the justices’ decision faced off in heated exchanges.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Among the crowd was Jack Trowbridge, a junior at Wesleyan University, who supports the use of race-conscious admissions.

“It’s unfair that our community is being used as a wedge to take down multiracial democracy,” he said.

He said Thursday’s decision is not the end of the fight for multiracial democracy.

“The Supreme Court may have rolled back over 40 years of law, but civil rights organizations throughout the country are going to keep fighting this fight,” he said. “We’re going to stay hopeful. We’re going to work with our partners in the university admissions systems to develop alternatives to race-conscious admissions and ensure that our dream of equality for all in America stays alive.”

He and several other students were on hand outside the Supreme Court to rally in support of affirmative action. They were part of the same coalition that organized a rally last November when the justices heard oral arguments in both cases.

“It’s disheartening to see arguments like this, because there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation regarding affirmative action,” said Sonny Hu, a rising senior at Williams College in Massachusetts. “The main, important thing is that as Asian Americans, we are not a monolith. These arguments do not represent all of us.”

Kelly Ji, rising sophomore at Pomona College in California, said she thinks the decision will scare colleges and universities and could lead institutions to abandon holistic admissions policies.

“They’re scared that they’re going to get sued,” she said. “This is going to go beyond just a race issue. This is going to turn into a socioeconomic issue. This is going to turn into a gender identity issue. This is going to turn into a sexual orientation issue. So this decision does affect everyone regardless of what race they identify with.”

Despite the decision, Trowbridge said he feels invigorated to keep pushing.

“We have to have hope,” he said.

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