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The Supreme Court’s Decision to Hear Affirmative Action Case, Explained


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The Supreme Court will hear two crucial cases over the use of race in the admission process of American campuses, as the nine justices will decide if the admission policies of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina violate the principle of no-discrimination and of equal protection, enshrined under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.  

Both universities had successfully defended their affirmative action practices in the lower courts, but the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the legal challenges might indicate the willingness of the bench to revise the jurisprudence of race in college admissions. Back in 2003, the Supreme Court narrowly decided that universities could use race in a tailored way to ensure diversity in the student body.

If the Supreme Court rules against either university it could set a new precedent over the use of ethnicity or race when admissions officials decide who will be accepted to higher education institutions.

The Supreme Court will decide over the admission system of Harvard, which was denounced for discriminating Asian-Americans (Image:EFE)

Harvard allegedly discriminated against Asian-Americans due to race-based admissions system

The case against Harvard was brought by the Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA), a group led by conservative legal activist Edward Bloom, and it argues that the Ivy-league school uses quota-like methods to artificially create a diverse student body, a practice the group denounces has gravely affected Asian Americans, who they say are less likely to be admitted than whites, blacks, and Latino applicants with the same qualifications.

The Harvard lawsuit was at first supported by the Trump administration, but the Biden White House withdrew its support after assuming office, asking the Supreme Court not to review the case after the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit denied the request. The SFFA lawsuit argued that Harvard “uses race at every stage of the admissions process” and is “obsessed with race”. It also accused Harvard of discriminating against Asian-Americans as they have to “score higher than all other racial groups, including whites, to be recruited by Harvard.”

The case against UNC was very similar to that of Harvard, and the SFFA also argued that North Carolina’s biggest public university admission policy is based on race, something that would violate the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. UNC defended its policy by saying the university has a “compelling interest in the educational benefits of racial diversity” and that the university had “closely adhered to the Supreme Court directives and constitutional requirements.”

The SFFA also asked the Court to overrule the decision allowing race to be taken into account in admission decisions, saying it was a “grievous wrong” and that it has no basis on the Fourteenth Amendment and contradicts previous Court precedent.  In a press release, SFFA President Edward Blum showed his approval over Court’s decision, saying: “We are grateful the Supreme Court accepted these important cases for review. 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.”

Harvard has defended their admission policy and has lamented the decision of the Supreme Court to review the lawsuits. In a statement, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, said the case “puts at risk 40 years of legal precedent granting colleges and universities the freedom and flexibility to create diverse campus communities and that reviewing race as one factor among many in admissions decisions produces a more diverse student body.”

The lawsuit asks the Supreme Court to reevaluate the case that allows race to be a factor in college admissions (Image:EFE)

A substantial majority of Americans don’t think race should be a major factor in college admissions

While defenders of the use of race as an integral part of the admissions process for colleges argue this is a crucial procedural step to achieve diversity, a majority of Americans do not think race or ethnicity should play a significant role in determining who gets accepted into college. A 2019 Pew Research Center poll found that 73% of Americans think race should not be a factor in college admissions.

Based on that survey, only 7% of adults think race or ethnicity should be a “major factor” in college admissions, while 19% said race should only play a “minor factor.” This majority cuts across racial and partisan lines, as 62% of blacks and 65% of Latinos think it should not be a factor. Even a significant majority of Democrat-Democratic leaning voters (63%) also think that race should not be a major factor in university admissions.

Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.

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