UNC, Harvard’s affirmative action programs appear to be in jeopardy from the Supreme Court

UNC, Harvard’s affirmative action programs appear to be in jeopardy from the Supreme Court


Conservative Supreme Court justices on Monday appeared open to ending decades of precedent allowing for race-conscious admissions decisions at colleges and universities, repeatedly expressing doubt that institutions would ever grant an “end point” in his use of race to construct diverse student bodies.

After nearly five hours of oral argument, the programs at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill appeared to be in jeopardy. The question is how far-reaching such a decision could be, and what it would mean for other institutions of higher education.

Overturning the court’s precedent that race can be a factor of many in the admission decision would have “profound consequences” for “the nation we are and the nation we aspire to be,” Solicitor General Elizabeth. B. Prelogar told the justices during the arguments in the case of Harvard. She said educating a diverse group of national leaders has had consequences for the military, medical and scientific communities and corporate America.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito on October 31 challenged attorney Seth Waxman on Harvard’s admissions policies. (Video: The Washington Post)

But the court’s conservatives took both cases to revisit decades of Supreme Court rulings that tolerated limited use of racial classifications, and appeared unsatisfied with claims by lawyers representing the schools that the end was near. for the use of race policies. Under repeated questioning, those lawyers conceded that they could not provide a specific answer to the question: “When will it end?”

Read live updates from Monday’s oral arguments on the UNC, Harvard cases

Patrick Strawbridge, the attorney representing Students for Fair Admissions, the group that brought both challenges, argued that the Supreme Court had rejected racial classifications in marriage, jury selection and school assignment. elementary

Allowing in college admissions, “Some applicants are incentivized to conceal their race,” Strawbridge said in the UNC case. “Others who were admitted on merit have their achievements diminished by assumptions that their race played a role in their admission. And there is no evidence that after two decades [the court’s precedent] it somehow reduced the role of race on campus.

Since the 1970s, the Supreme Court has said that race can be used as a factor that universities can consider in evaluating applicants for admission. Universities say there is a continued need for affirmative action to build diverse student bodies, which they say will strengthen the overall learning environment with distinct perspectives and experiences.

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued on Oct. 31 that Reconstruction-era integration policies are relevant to today’s racial disparities in education. (Video: The Washington Post)

Harvard and UNC describe as “holistic” the process the universities use to review applicants. If schools aren’t allowed to use race, these universities say, minority enrollment will drop dramatically.

The challengers want the court to overturn longstanding precedent and rule that considerations of race violate federal law and the Constitution. Edward Blum, president of Students for the Admission Fair, he said that the university places too much weight on race and that the nation cannot remedy past discrimination with racial preferences, which he considers a different form of discrimination.

In the case of Harvard, the accusation is that the school’s policy discriminates against Asian-Americans. UNC, the group said, gave unfair advantages to black and Hispanic applicants. However, the university has denied wrongdoing. Lower courts said their practices followed Supreme Court precedent.

At the end of Monday’s contentious arguments, Prelogar and the Harvard attorney urged the justices to remand cases if they had doubts about how carefully the lawsuits were scrutinized, rather than overturning court precedents .

A most Americans support a ban on race-conscious admissions policies, according to a recent poll by the Washington Post-Schar School, but an equally strong number of programs to enhance racial diversity on college campuses.

In 2003 and again in 2016, the court upheld the limited use of race in admissions and said that the educational benefits of a diverse student body justified some intrusion into the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, which generally prevents the government from making decisions based on race. .

But only one justice in the four-member majority in the 2016 case involving the University of Texas is still on the court; three Trump nominees solidified a 6-3 conservative majority. There is disagreement among the justices about whether the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment means that the Constitution should be color blind.

Challengers say that under the equal protection clause, state-run universities like UNC cannot use race as a factor in admissions decisions. Harvard is not subject to that constitutional clause, but must adhere to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That statute prohibits racial discrimination, exclusion, or denial of benefits under “any program or activity that receive federal financial assistance.”

Harvard, a private institution, is subject to Title VI because it receives millions in federal grants and enrolls students who pay in part with federal financial aid. UNC, a public university, is covered by both the Constitution and Title VI, which incorporates equal protection standards after Title VI.

The cases are Students for the Admission Fair v. University of North Carolinaand Students for the Admission Fair v. President and Fellows of Harvard College.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

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