The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear a challenge to widely used race-conscious admissions policies designed to skew college admissions towards Black and Hispanic students across the country. The cases, Students for Fair Admission v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, No. 20-1199 and Students for Fair Admission v. University of North Carolina, No. 21-707, are expected to be heard during the court’s next term beginning in October.
The Students for Fair Admission group accuses both universities of race-based discrimination during their admissions process, specifically accusing the University of North Carolina of favoring minorities over white and Asian American applicants in a bid to increase diversity on their campuses. Race has publicly been a factor in the application review process for both organizations, also stating that limiting race would limit diversity among students and decrease minority representation on their campuses.
The landmark 1978 case University of California v. Bakke first set the foundation that race could be used as a factor in admissions, but that schools could not have racial quotas to guide their admissions practices. 2003’s Gutter v. Bollinger case also affirmed the ruling, with the Court deciding that the University of Michican Law School’s extensive applicant review process meant that race did not define an automatic acceptance or rejection and was therefore constitutional.
With President Trump-appointed Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett now residing on the Court, a 6-3 Conservative majority means that both cases have the potential to upend affirmative action and eliminate race-based admissions from universities that receive federal funding. While Harvard University and UNC are private and public respectively, both receive federal funding.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the state’s flagship university. Unlike Harvard, UNC is a public university that is covered by the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. The Students for Fair Admissions took their cases directly to the Supreme Court after being rejected by a North Carolina federal district court, requesting that both their argument toward UNC and Harvard be heard. After deliberations begin in the new term, the cases will likely see decisions by early 2023.
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