Harvard and UNC race cases present test for US Supreme Court

Oct 30 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider whether colleges can continue to use race as a factor in student admissions in two cases that give its conservative majority a chance to ban the policies often used to boost black and Hispanic enrollment and perhaps overturn its own precedents allowing such practices.

Judges, facing another contentious issue in American society, are due to hear appeal arguments Monday from a group backed by a conservative activist of lower court rulings upholding affirmative action admissions policies at the University of Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

Many American colleges and universities place a high value on a diverse student body, not only to address racial inequities and exclusion in American life, but to bring a range of perspectives to campuses in an effort to provide a richer educational experience for all. Critics argue that these policies themselves constitute unlawful racial discrimination.

According to Harvard, about 40% of US colleges and universities consider race in some way in admissions.

The Supreme Court upheld those policies, most recently in a 2016 ruling involving a white woman who sued after the University of Texas rejected her. The court has moved to the right since then. His 6-3 conservative majority includes three dissenting justices in that 2016 ruling and three appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump.

The Harvard and UNC lawsuits were filed in 2014 by a group called Students for Fair Admissions founded by an anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, which also supported the plaintiff from the University of Texas. Blum said he doesn’t take a decision against the schools for granted, adding, “Trying to predict what the court is going to do is a wild ride.”

A decision in favor of the plaintiffs could force the court to reverse its 2016 decision and previous rulings.

In 1978, the court ruled in a case titled Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that race could be considered one of many admissions factors, including academic and extracurricular criteria, but prohibited racial quotas. He reaffirmed this in a 2003 decision in a case called Grutter v. Bollinger.

The Court’s conservative bloc has shown a willingness to abandon precedent, as illustrated by the June Decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 1973 which legalized abortion nationwide.


The lawsuits accused UNC of discriminating against white and Asian American applicants and Harvard of discriminating against Asian American applicants.

“These challenges are part of a broader attack on the importance and value that the Constitution and American society place on diversity and inclusion in the fundamental institutions of our society,” said Sarah Hinger, attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed briefs in cases supporting the schools.

Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration supports schools.

Students for Fair Admissions cited Harvard data showing that Asian American applicants were less likely to be admitted than white, black or Hispanic applicants with similar qualifications. He said UNC admissions data showed “clear” racial disparities in acceptance rates among similarly qualified applicants, with black and Hispanic students favored over white and Native American students. Asian.

Blum’s group argued that Harvard’s policies violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in any program receiving federal financial assistance, and that the UNC had violated the Equal Protection Guarantee of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

The lower courts disagreed. For example, the Boston-based United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit found that Harvard’s use of race was “meaningful” and not “unacceptably comprehensive” because it prevented diversity from collapse.

Chief Justice John Roberts is seen as the conservative justice least inclined to overturn precedent. But he dissented in the 2016 ruling alongside fellow Tory justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Thomas, one of two black judges on the court, spoke out openly against racial preferences.

“The Constitution abhors classifications based on race, not only because such classifications may harm favored races or are based on improper grounds, but also because whenever the government enrolls citizens on racial registries and renders race relevant to the granting of office or benefit, it demeans us all,” wrote Thomas in a dissenting decision Grutter v. Bollinger.

Michaele Turnage Young, an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund who has filed briefs supporting the schools, said the court may rule more narrowly than its 6-3 ideological split suggests, especially after political backlash from the abortion decision.

“The court may be reluctant to overturn another long-standing federal precedent,” she said.

David Bernstein, a professor at George Mason University School of Law who filed a brief supporting Blum’s group, said he would be watching to see if the three liberal justices can find “a loophole or a limit” to allow to some form of racial preference to remain.

Liberal Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the other black member of the tribunal, recused herself from the Harvard case but is expected to participate in the UNC case. Jackson, the most recent justiceattended Harvard and previously served on its board of supervisors.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nathalie Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *