The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to make what could be a landmark ruling on the constitutionality of affirmative action after justices decided Monday, Jan. 24, to take up cases arising from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard University.
The cases originated in 2014 when the nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions sued UNC-Chapel Hill and Harvard for unfairly discriminating against white and Asian students in their admissions process, giving preference to black and Latino students instead. The cases proceeded in two different sets of federal courts.
A federal judge ruled in November 2021 that UNC-Chapel Hill did not violate federal law and that the school could continue using race as a factor in admissions. That decision was appealed to the nation’s top court. Supporters sought to have the case combined with the Harvard case, which had proceeded further through the federal court system.
“We are grateful the Supreme Court accepted these important cases for review,” said Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions, in a statement. “It is our hope that the justices will end the use of race as an admissions factor at Harvard, UNC, and all colleges and universities.”
Harvard is the oldest private university in the United States, while UNC-Chapel Hill is the oldest public university. Arguments in the case at the U.S. Supreme Court are likely to take place in the fall, with a ruling coming next year.
The new conservative majority on the nation’s top court means that justices could ostensibly overturn affirmative action and ban racial preferences in admissions decisions.
“I’m delighted the court has decided to hear this case,” said Jon Guze, senior fellow in legal studies at the John Locke Foundation. “Like other universities, UNC and Harvard have been systematically discriminating against applicants on the basis of race for years. That’s clearly illegal. It’s also immoral, and it’s counterproductive because it harms the specific racial groups it’s supposed to help. In the past, the Supreme Court has allowed the universities to use ‘diversity’ as a pretext for flaunting the letter of the law. Now, I’m hoping it finally put a stop to this obnoxious practice.”
“I think this is the beginning of the end of the ‘woke’ movement,” said Kenny Xu, president of the nonprofit Color Us United that advocates for a race-blind America. “The movement is premised off of the allegations that America is a racist country. Because of that, we need to have policies like race preferences to give unmerited treatment to people of certain races — obviously meaning you need to exclude higher-qualified people of nonpreferred races.”
According to the UNC-Chapel Hill website, the university evaluates “each student individually based on a multitude of factors, including but not limited to, academic performance, test scores, class rank, essays, experiences, circumstances, and potential to contribute to the educational environment. We only consider race or ethnicity as one of these many factors if a student chooses to share that information. Even then, we consider race or ethnicity in a limited way, as one factor among many, in assessing everything we know about an applicant.”
According to Ballotpedia, seven out of 16 schools in the UNC System make admissions decisions based in part on race. Nine states in the United States have banned affirmative action in college admissions decisions, including deep-blue states like California and Washington. Last year, California voters upheld their anti-affirmative action law by a 57% margin.