Challenging Affirmative Action: Supreme Court To Hear Court Cases on Race-Conscious Admissions Programs

Kate Stuzin, Managing Editor

On Monday, Jan. 24, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a pair of race-based affirmative action cases from Harvard University and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 

Students for Fair Admissions — a non-profit organization founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum — brought both affirmative action cases to the Supreme Court. Blum accused Harvard and UNC of illegally rejecting Asian American applicants at a disproportionately higher rate, in violation of Supreme Court precedent and the students’ constitutional rights.

Two lower federal courts have rejected these claims; Harvard and UNC have used these decisions to defend their respective admission policies as constitutional. The Supreme Court’s agreement to hear the cases indicates a revisitation of the Court’s precedent on affirmative action. 

Blum was also behind Fisher v. University of Texas in 2016, the last affirmative action case upheld by the Supreme Court in a narrow 4-3 ruling.  Since then, former President Donald Trump has nominated three conservative Supreme Court justices, moving the court rightward. 

Ever since the first affirmative action case in 1974, the Supreme Court has upheld race-based considerations in college admissions to create a more diverse student body. However, with a 6-3 majority conservative court, the justices have a chance to overturn protections that increase opportunities for individuals belonging to underrepresented groups.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who has voted with the court’s liberal minority faction in recent cases, has previously advocated against affirmative action. Roberts and many other conservatives on the court have long contended that the best approach to eliminate racial discrimination in the college admissions process is to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race.

The court will likely begin hearing arguments for the case in the fall term, beginning in October and ending in June 2023.