U.S. Supreme Court to hear affirmative action cases that echo previous attempts to target UT

·4 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases that challenge the use of race in college admissions, which could determine the future of affirmative action in higher education.

The justices will consider the policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions challenged the undergraduate admission policies at the two universities. The court is likely to hear the cases in its next term starting in October, and they could be decided by June 2023.

Students for Fair Admissions, founded by Edward Blum in 2014 with a mission to end race from being considered in any university admission process, alleges that Harvard is discriminating against Asian American students and UNC is discriminating against both Asian American and white students. Lower courts have ruled that the schools used race to achieve more diversity among the student body in a legally permissible way.

The Supreme Court previously has upheld affirmative action policies in multiple cases, including most recently in Fisher v. University of Texas in 2016, when Blum lost his challenge to the school’s consideration of race in its undergraduate admission process.

Past case: Group sues UT-Austin on behalf of white students who say they were unfairly denied admission

Under UT’s current admission policies, 75% of the freshman class comprises students who finished in the top 6% of their high school graduating class and were offered admission automatically. The rest of the student body are offered admission based on a holistic process that considers a variety of factors, including race and ethnicity.

UT officials declined to comment on the court’s decision to consider cases involving Harvard and UNC, but campus officials previously have stressed the importance and education benefits of diversity in higher education.

Since the 2016 ruling, Blum has continued to pursue challenges against affirmative action, and the Supreme Court has grown more conservative with three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump. The cases involving Harvard and UNC will be the court's first major consideration of affirmative action since 2016.

Blum also is asking the court to overturn its 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which first upheld the use of affirmative action in the law school admission program at the University of Michigan.

The plaintiffs in this most recent case argue that Harvard is violating a federal law that prohibits schools from discriminating based on race if they receive federal funds. They also claim that UNC has violated the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, along with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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Harvard and UNC officials have denied that they discriminate against Asian American applicants, and campus officials have argued that the consideration of race allows for the schools to create a student body that enriches the educational experience and provides students of color with more access to higher education.

Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow said in a statement Monday that considering race as a factor in admission decisions is essential to the educational mission of universities and the success of students everywhere.

“The Supreme Court decision to review the unanimous decisions of the lower federal courts puts at risk 40 years of legal precedent granting colleges and universities the freedom and flexibility to create diverse campus communities,” Bacow said.

In a statement, Blum said Harvard and UNC have “racially gerrymandered” their freshman classes to achieve “prescribed racial quotas” and urged other colleges to judge applicants as individuals, “not as some representative of a racial or ethnic group.”

Read more: University of Texas hits record undergraduate Hispanic student enrollment

“The cornerstone of our nation's civil rights laws is the principle that an individual's race should not be used to help or harm them in their life's endeavors,” Blum said. “We hope the Supreme Court will use these cases to begin the restoration of the colorblind legal covenant that holds together Americans of all races and ethnicities.”

Students for Fair Admissions has pursued two other unsuccessful challenges of UT policies, including one on behalf of white students who claimed the university did not give them a fair chance to apply for admission because of their race. In both cases, judges dismissed the cases.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to affirmative action policies

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