Supreme Court Schedules Affirmative Action Cases for Oct. 31

Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill were sued for considering race in admissions. A decision against them could mean the end of affirmative action in college admissions.
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  • Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina in 2014.
  • The conservative nonprofit argued each school's consideration of race in admissions discriminated against Asian Americans.
  • Lower courts previously upheld the policies of both universities.
  • A decision against the schools could mean the end of affirmative action in college admissions.

The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) announced Wednesday that Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows at Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina will be argued on Monday, Oct. 31.

Conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions brought a lawsuit against each school in 2014, alleging that their consideration of race in admissions was unconstitutional. Each case was thrown out by lower courts, leading the group to file an appeal of both cases to the Supreme Court in November 2021.

In its petition for certiorari, Students for Fair Admissions argues that each school awards racial preference to African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, and therefore discriminates against Asian Americans, since they are not considered an "underrepresented" group.

SCOTUS announced last January that it would hear the combined cases, but last month it released an order noting that the two cases had been decoupled. Decisions for each are expected to be released by June 2023.

The court didn't specify why it decoupled the cases, but some speculate the move allows Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to participate in the UNC-Chapel Hill decision. Jackson, who joined the court in June, recused herself from the Harvard case given her prior status as a member of the university's Board of Overseers.

When it hears the case, SCOTUS will once again decide the fate of affirmative action in college admissions with more than 40 years of legal precedent on the line.

The Supreme Court in a 1978 ruling outlawed racial quotas but allowed the use of race as one factor among many in college admissions so that school's can enroll a diverse student body.

That decision was largely upheld in a 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which affirmed the University of Michigan Law School's consideration of race in its admissions program. The court most recently ruled on affirmative action in higher education in June 2016 when, in a 4-3 decision, it upheld the consideration of race in the admissions process at the University of Texas.

Students for Fair Admissions in its petition for certiorari asks the Supreme Court to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger. "...Grutter endorsed racial objectives that are amorphous and unmeasurable and thus incapable of narrow tailoring," the petition says. "Unsurprisingly then, universities have used Grutter as a license to engage in outright racial balancing."