Supreme Court to Hear Two Major Affirmative Action Cases

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two major cases on “race conscious admissions programs” at Harvard University and University of North Carolina (UNC). Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) sued Harvard University in 2018, claiming their admissions policies discriminated against Asian-American applicants. SFFA argued that Harvard utilized a “subjective standard” to evaluate personality traits including likeability, kindness, and empathy. Harvard, on the other hand, argued that race-conscious admissions policies are legal under Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a Supreme Court case that upheld such policies in 2016.

In the University of North Carolina case, SFFA claimed that the school gave Native American, Black, and Latino students preference and discriminated against white and Asian students. Like Harvard, UNC relied on Fisher and argued their policies “fostered educational diversity.” After the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Harvard and UNC, the Supreme Court granted SFFA’s request for certiorari and will hear both cases together.

As these cases developed, affirmative action has become a highly debated topic for politicians and the public. According to a 2019 poll by PEW Research Center, 73% of Americans believe colleges and universities should not consider race or ethnicity in student admissions. In 2020, California voters did not overturn a state ban on considering race, gender, and ethnicity in public education and government employment. Proponents of affirmative action believe the Supreme Court’s conservative majority could endanger Fisher and reduce diversity on college campuses.

The Court will likely hear arguments in October 2022 and reach a decision in the 2023 Spring/Summer term. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson has said, if confirmed to the Court, that she will recuse herself from this case based on her previous and current affiliations with Harvard.

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