The use of race in admissions decisions to some of America’s finest institutions is the third contentious and sensitive topic the US Supreme Court will address on Monday, after abortion and firearms.
Additionally, the court with a conservative majority may be prepared to reverse course again, as it did in June when it changed the famous “Roe v. Wade” ruling from 1973 that protected a woman’s right to an abortion.
The use of race in admissions to Harvard and the University of North Carolina (UNC), the nation’s oldest private and public universities, will be the subject of two hours of oral arguments before the court.
Like many other selective universities, Harvard and UNC employ race as a criterion to attempt to guarantee that minorities, particularly African Americans, are represented in the student population.
According to Yasmin Cader, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the “affirmative action” policy was born out of the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s to “help address our country’s long history of discrimination and systematic inequalities in higher education” (ACLU).
Right-wing critics have attacked it, and some white students have filed lawsuits over the years, alleging “reverse discrimination.”
Affirmative action is prohibited at public institutions in nine states, including California, where voters rejected a 2020 effort to reinstate the practice after doing so in a ballot measure in 1996.
– Students for Fair Admissions –
The Supreme Court has already affirmed affirmative action by a single vote, most recently in 2016. Still, its opponents think the current right-leaning panel will consider their arguments more.
Ilya Shapiro, a senior scholar at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank, stated, “If they overturned Roe, I believe they are as likely to overturn Bakke.”
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, a landmark decision from 1978, declared the use of quotas in admissions unlawful.
However, the court ruled that to create a varied student population, race or ethnic origin might be considered as one of many admissions criteria.
Conservatives have a substantial majority on the nine-member high court with six judges, three of whom were selected by Republican former president Donald Trump.
And those in favor of “color-blind” admissions procedures think Chief Justice John Roberts may be a supporter.
In a 2007 school integration decision, Roberts stated: “The method to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race is to cease discriminating on the basis of race.”
The most recent assault against the practice is led by an organization called Students for Fair Admissions, which has more than 20,000 members and was established by Edward Blum, a longtime conservative opponent of affirmative action.
The organization sued Harvard and UNC in 2014, arguing that both institutions’ racial-conscious admissions practices discriminate against Asian-American candidates who are otherwise equally competent.
According to the allegations, Asian-American students are underrepresented in the schools despite their track record of higher academic accomplishment.
According to Blum, “the college admissions hurdle cannot be increased for certain races and ethnic groups while being dropped for others in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society like ours.”
“Our country cannot address current racial prejudice and injustice with fresh prejudice and other racial preferences.”
– ‘Diverse leaders’ –
After losing in lower courts, the organization asks the Supreme Court to rule that the Constitution forbids all forms of discrimination. This judgment might influence employment practices or government contracts, where minority-owned firms are often given precedence.
The Supreme Court will hear one hour of arguments in each case, with Harvard’s case being skipped by Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first African-American woman to sit on the court’s Board of Overseers.
Numerous significant American businesses and the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden have spoken out in favor of the institutions.
According to the Department of Justice, “Our Nation’s future hinges on having diverse leaders who are prepared to lead in an increasingly varied community.”
Starbucks, Apple, and General Motors joined in submitting a brief saying that “diverse workforces” boost the American and global economies by enhancing company performance.
The ACLU’s Cader cautioned that the effects would be extensive and protracted if the court decided to reverse its prior support for affirmative action measures.
According to Cader, “we run the risk of future generations having less rights than we had.”
And as an African American woman who attended law school under that precedent, I am qualified to say that.