The United State Supreme Court heard oral arguments of Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (SFFA v. UNC) on October 31. The case allows the high court to correct a historical wrong and end racial preferences in college admissions.
The plaintiffs, SFFA, asked in their hearing request for the high court to reverse its 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger that allows public universities to consider applicants’ race in admissions. By extension, they also target an older ruling, the 1977 case University of California v. Bakke. Both cases sided with racial preferences by 5-4 majorities.
The heart of SFFA v. UNC is whether colleges can discriminate by race by erecting higher barriers to entry for prospective Asian-American or White students than for their Black or Latino counterparts. Harvard University is similarly seeking the right to keep discriminating by race in admissions in another case before the Supreme Court.
Let’s not mince words: racial discrimination is what UNC is fighting to protect. They do so in violation of the 14th Amendment and the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act bans any institution receiving federal funds from denying benefits, such as admission to their university, based on race.
As a government institution, UNC must prove that theirs is a good kind of racial discrimination that serves a “compelling governmental interest.” That interest is the supposed educational benefits of having a more racially diverse student body. They must also demonstrate that discriminating against Asian-American and White students is the only way to achieve that interest.
Using race to determine who gets admitted into college contradicts American ideas of fundamental fairness. When is it fair to penalize someone in the college admissions process because of race?
Americans consistently oppose the unfairness of racial preferences in college admissions. That is why 63% of respondents in a Washington Post/Schar poll taken in early October favored the Supreme Court banning colleges and universities from considering a student’s race and ethnicity when making decisions about student admissions. Other polls similarly find overwhelming opposition to using race or ethnicity to affect who gets admitted into college and who does not.
Even in reliably progressive California, voters shot down an attempt to reinstate racial preferences for college admission when they voted against Proposition 16 in 2020. Voters had banned racial preferences in a statewide vote there in 1996. Proposition 16 failed even though pro–affirmative action groups outspent the opposition $31 million to $1.6 million. It is well past time for North Carolina and the rest of America to join California and other states that have already determined that your skin color should not determine whether you are accepted into the university of your choice.
The narrow majority that ruled in favor of affirmative action in college admissions in Grutter v. Bollinger also recognized the unfairness of racial preferences and how corrosive government-sanctioned racial discrimination is. They essentially put a timer on affirmative action programs for college admissions in the ruling:
Accordingly, race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time. This requirement reflects that racial classifications, however compelling their goals, are potentially so dangerous that they may be employed no more broadly than the interest demands.
The court suggested a 25-year limit for affirmative action programs in that ruling. Still, there is no indication that the University of North Carolina — or any other institution using race-based admissions — has started transitioning away from using them.
Defenders of UNC’s system of racial preferences before the high court, including North Carolina Solicitor General Ryan Park, offered no indication that the institution would end those preferences by the 2028 suggested cutoff date. Park might as well have told the court, “Racial preferences today, racial preferences tomorrow, racial preferences forever.”
Nothing short of overturning Grutter v. Bollinger will end racial discrimination in college admissions in our — or even our children’s — lifetimes. It is well past time for the court to end race-based admissions.