On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases relating to the use of race preferences in college admissions.
There are two lawsuits – one against the University of North Carolina the other against Harvard. The group bringing both challenges is Students for Fair Admissions, led by attorney Edward Blum.
Harvard is being accused of discriminating against Asian American students in admissions and the group is asking the Supreme Court to also look at whether the school is violating Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination for places that get federal funding.
The University of North Carolina is being accused of violating the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. The group says the university violates this by taking into account the race of students when admitting them.
Harvard is a private university and UNC is public, meaning the implications for the rulings could be very wide ranging. Lower courts previously ruled that the schools could consider race in admissions.
On Tuesday, Harvard’s president sent out a message to members of the Harvard community, saying, “Those who challenge our admissions policies would ask us to rely upon a process far more mechanistic, a process far more reliant on simple assessments of objective criteria.” The statement said Harvard will continue to defend their admissions policies.
In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled on a case involving race and admissions, called Grutter v. Bollinger. They found that the University of Michigan Law School’s use of race in its admissions process did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act.
In the majority opinion, however, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “The Court expects that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”
Legal analyst Erin Hawley, former clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts, spoke to The Daily Wire about the Grutter case.
“In a highly contentious case, a five-four decision… they upheld the admissions process in the University of Michigan, but they did it in a really narrow way,” Hawley said. “They said that the state of Michigan and the University of Michigan did have a compelling interest in sort of a diverse student body…”
There was a similar case decided in 2013 in which the court ruled in the other direction. In Fisher vs. University of Texas, a caucasian female student argued she was denied admission based on race. In a 7-1 majority, the high Court sided with the student saying the university’s admission policy did not meet a strict standard.
In taking up the Harvard and UNC cases, the Supreme Court will essentially decide whether or not it should overrule the Grutter decision.
The high Court put both of the cases together for argument, which is expected to take place next term. There likely won’t be a decision until next summer.
“…I think you probably have a majority that’s very skeptical of Grutter. Grutter departed from the original text of the Fourteenth Amendment and its promise that equal protection under the law,” Hawley said.
“And you’ve got the Chief Justice again who said…the best way to stop discriminating on race is to actually stop discriminating based on race and not to consider racial factors,” she added.
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