Racial cases from Harvard and UNC present test to US Supreme Court

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether colleges can continue to use race as a factor in student admission in two cases that give conservative majority a chance to ban policies often used to boost black and Hispanic enrollment and perhaps its own precedents permitting such practices.

Facing another controversial issue in American society, the judges are expected to hear arguments Monday in appeals by a group backed by a conservative activist of lower court rulings that overturn the affirmative action admissions policy at Harvard University. and the University of North Carolina maintains.

Many U.S. colleges and universities are committed to reaching a diverse student population, not only to remedy racial inequality and exclusion in American life, but to bring a range of perspectives to campuses with the goal of providing a richer educational experience for all. . Critics argue that this policy itself amounts to unlawful racial discrimination.

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

The Supreme Court has upheld such policies, most recently in a 2016 ruling involving a white woman who filed a lawsuit after the University of Texas rejected her. Since then, the court has moved to the right. The 6-3 conservative majority includes three judges who disagreed with that 2016 decision and three who were appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump.

The Harvard and UNC lawsuits were filed in 2014 by a group called Students for Fair Admissions, founded by anti-positive activist Edward Blum, who also supported the University of Texas plaintiff. Blum said he doesn’t take a ruling against the schools for granted, adding, “Trying to predict what the court will do is a fool’s errand.”

A ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could result in the court having to reverse the 2016 ruling and previous decisions.

The court ruled in a 1978 case called Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that race could be considered one of several eligibility factors, including academic and extracurricular criteria, but excluded racial quotas. It reaffirmed that in a 2003 ruling in a case called Grutter v. Bollinger.

The court’s conservative bloc has shown a willingness to break the precedent, as illustrated in the June decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, 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 our society’s core institutions,” said Sarah Hinger, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, who has submitted files in support of the schools.

The administration of Democratic President Joe Biden supports the schools.

Students for Fair Admissions cited data from Harvard showing that Asian-American applicants were less likely to be admitted than white, black or Hispanic applicants with similar qualifications. It said the UNC’s admissions data showed “strong” racial disparities in acceptance rates among equally qualified applicants, with black and Hispanic students being preferred over white and Asian-American students.

Blum’s group has argued that Harvard’s policy violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination under any program that receives federal funding, and that the UNCs guarantee equal protection under the law. violated the US Constitution.

The lower courts disagreed. For example, the Boston-based 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals found that Harvard’s use of race was “meaningful” and not “impermissibly expansive” because it prevented diversity from plummeting.

Chief Justice John Roberts is seen as the conservative judge least likely to overturn precedents. But he disagreed with the 2016 ruling, along with fellow Conservative judges Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Thomas, one of the court’s two black judges, has spoken out against racial preferences.

“The Constitution abhors classifications based on race, not only because those classifications can harm privileged races or are based on illegitimate motives, but also because any time the government puts citizens on racial registers and makes race relevant for providing burdens or benefits , it humiliates us all,” Thomas wrote in a statement from Grutter v. Bollinger.

Michaele Turnage Young, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has filed statements in support of the schools, said the court could rule more harshly than the 6-3 ideological split would suggest, especially after the political backlash from the abortion ruling.

“The court may be wary of overturning another long-standing federal precedent,” she said.

David Bernstein, a law professor at George Mason University who has submitted a brief support for Blum’s group, said he would see if the three liberal judges can find “an escape hatch or limit” to form some form or other. of racial preferences. .

Liberal judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the other black member of the court, has withdrawn from the Harvard case but will participate in the UNC case. Jackson, the newest judge, attended Harvard and previously served on the Board of Overseers.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Will Dunham)

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