WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a major race-based affirmative action challenge at colleges and universities across the nation, paving the way for another victory long sought by conservatives.
The justices voted to hear a pair of appeals claiming that Harvard University, the nation’s oldest private university, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the oldest public university, are violating the laws on civil rights by giving preferences to some minority students who wish to be admitted while discriminating against others, including Asian Americans.
They are asking the court to rule that universities, whether public or private, cannot “use race as a factor in admissions”. And they rely on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that no one “shall be discriminated against … on the grounds of race, color, or national origin” in any school or college that receives federal funds.
Since 1978, however, the Supreme Court has ruled that colleges, universities and law schools can view a student’s race or ethnicity as a “positive factor” in order to create more diversity in their classrooms. In recent decades, the court has faced affirmative action challenges to admissions policies at the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Texas, but narrowly upheld them in due to strong conservative dissent.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was among the dissenters and he now has five other conservative justices to his right. And they are able to reverse past decisions that upheld affirmative action.
The effect in California, however, may be limited. In 1996, the state was the first to ban admissions policies based on race when voters passed Prop. 209. He said public universities like the University of California cannot “discriminate or give preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color. , ethnicity or national origin. A move to repeal the measure fell through in the November 2020 election. Eight other states have since passed similar measures, including Washington, Michigan and Florida.
But a decision reversing Harvard’s admissions policy would also apply to other private colleges and universities, such as Stanford and USC.
The pair of cases to be heard in the High Court were created and managed by Edward Blum, a retired financier who has launched a series of lawsuits to challenge what he sees as unlawful use of race by colleges and universities. He recruits supporters to support his cases and he creates a group called Students for Fair Admissions to sue Harvard and UNC.
The group says it has 20,000 members, including Asian American students who have been denied admission to Harvard. Its goal is to “restore the original principles of our nation’s civil rights movement.” A student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that hinder or help that student gain admission to a competitive university. Because UNC is a state university, it is also alleged to violate the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection” of laws.
“We hope judges will end the use of race as an admissions factor at Harvard, UNC and all colleges and universities,” Blum said Monday. “Each college applicant should be judged as a unique individual, not as a representative of any racial or ethnic group.”
Blum’s group lost to a federal judge and the 1st Circuit Court in Boston and to a federal judge in North Carolina. Judges in all three decisions said the challengers overstated the effect of race in the admissions process. They said universities are following past Supreme Court guidelines in considering a student’s race or ethnicity as a factor when choosing from a pool of highly qualified applicants.
Harvard, for example, says it selects 1,600 freshmen each year from more than 35,000 highly qualified applicants.
“To assemble the best freshman class, Harvard seeks students who excel beyond academics and who will bring distinctive experiences, perspectives, talents and interests to campus,” university attorneys told the court. It “does not pursue quotas or racial balance” and does not “automatically” give preferences to black or Latino applicants, they added.
In appeals to the Supreme Court, Blum’s attorneys said Harvard and UNC routinely ‘penalize’ Asian American applicants and require them to have much higher grades and test scores to gain admission. compared to black and Latino students. “Jewish students were the first victims of holistic admissions, and Asian Americans are the main victims today,” they wrote in the UNC appeal.
They also argue that the two universities could achieve racial and ethnic diversity through “race-neutral alternatives,” such as giving preferences to disadvantaged students who come from low-income families or from a community where few have gone to. the university.
The court will hear arguments in both cases, Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina.
The court did not say whether the cases will be heard this spring and decided this quarter, or postponed until the fall.
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