Supreme Court to consider cases that could end affirmative action in higher education
The Supreme Court will decide the fate of affirmative action, as it agreed Monday to hear a pair of cases challenging race conscious admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. SFFA, the group challenging the two schools, has a similar case against Yale, which will remain on hold as the Supreme Court case proceeds.
Zoe Berg, Photo Editor
The United States Supreme Court announced Monday that it would hear a pair of cases challenging race conscious admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. With the Court’s conservative majority, the outcome could dismantle affirmative action in higher education and set a precedent for a similar case against Yale.
The plaintiff in both cases is Students for Fair Admissions Inc., an organization dedicated to engendering a legal end to affirmative action. The group holds that Harvard and UNC discriminate against white and Asian American students in their admissions practices, and asked the Supreme Court to view its lawsuits against the two schools together in November. SFFA leveraged a similar suit against Yale in February 2021, but in May the University petitioned the court to hold the suit against Yale until the Harvard case is decided. The Connecticut District Court approved the motion later that month.
“Yale’s admissions practices adhere to Supreme Court precedent, and Yale College will continue to consider race and ethnicity as one part of its careful, whole-person review of applications,” University spokesperson Karen Peart wrote in an email to the News. “Yale will not waver in its commitment to assembling a diverse student body.”
According to the New York Times, the two cases must comply with different legal standards. As a private university, Harvard must avoid racial discrimination if it wished to receive federal money. But because UNC is a public university, it must adhere to the equal protection clause of the Constitution and its admissions practices can be evaluated with the clause in mind.
Federal courts upheld affirmative action in the Harvard case in October 2019 and the UNC case two years later, but given the current 6-3 conservative majority on the national bench, legal experts believe the practice may fall when the cases are argued next term.
Yale Law School professor Justin Driver said that these cases “do nothing less than threaten the future of racial diversity in higher education.”
Over 40 years of Supreme Court precedent supports affirmative action, Peart emphasized.
“The Court has agreed with educational researchers, universities, major corporations, high-ranking military officers and others, who all believe that exposure to a broad range of backgrounds, talents, and viewpoints improves students’ educational experience and better prepares them for leadership in an increasingly diverse society,” Peart said.
However, President of SFFA Edward Blum has repeatedly challenged the practice. He failed to get the nation’s highest court to end affirmative action in 2016. Similar to his argument in the Harvard, UNC and Yale cases, Blum claimed that affirmative action disadvantaged white applicants in Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin. The Supreme Court decided 4-3 that Abigail Fisher, a white student, was not discriminated against when the University of Texas at Austin denied her admission.
“We are grateful the Supreme Court accepted these important cases for review,” Blum wrote in a Monday press release. “It is our hope that the justices will end the use of race as an admissions factor at Harvard, UNC and all colleges and universities.”
Blum has been critiqued for seeking to expand the power of white people by chipping away at race-based legal protections — such as affirmative action and voting rights laws — that counteract structural racism.
He wrote in the press release that “an individual’s race should not be used to help or harm them in their life’s endeavors.”
If the court rules against Harvard and UNC, Blum will succeed in overturning the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the court maintained that a university’s interest in diversity justified factoring race in admissions.
The bench has changed in the intervening decade, and three Trump-appointees — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — have created a conservative majority that may push the nation to the right on more than just affirmative action.
‘The decision to review these affirmative action cases should not be viewed in isolation,” Driver wrote in an email to the News. “Along with pending cases involving abortion and firearms, they are but the most recent, high-profile indicators that some members of the Supreme Court wish to radically reshape the Nation.”
The Supreme Court first upheld affirmative action in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978.