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Universities describe their race-conscious practices as a holistic approach to admissions. Photo credit: Bill Clark via Getty Images.

Supreme Court leaning towards ending race-conscious admissions

The trial opened yesterday, but a final decision will likely happen only in June.

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During a five hour-long session on Halloween, the U.S. Supreme Court began listening to the oral arguments for the lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The institutions have been accused of benefiting certain racial and ethnic groups in their admission processes.  

The challenger, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), an anti-affirmative action legal organization, alleges UNC-Chapel Hill has run afoul of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause by favoring Black and Hispanic applicants, according to Higher Ed Dive. As for Harvard, SFFA says the university discriminates against Asian American applicants, violating a federal civil rights law.  

Legal experts and higher education leaders alert colleges to prepare for the ruling to be overturned. 

Conservative Supreme Court justices gave special attention to the need of putting an end to the consideration of race as an admission factor. Of extreme importance to their point, the landmark case Grutter v. Bollinger, in 2003, preserved the race-conscious admissions at the University of Michigan. 

At the time, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said that in 25 years race-conscious policies wouldn’t be necessary anymore. However, advocates for affirmative action believe it was an overly optimistic thought. O’Connor expressed regret for her opinion

According to CNN, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett quoted directly from Grutter: “using racial classifications are so potentially dangerous, however compelling their goals, they can be employed no more broadly.” 

The Supreme Court expressed concerns whether affirmative action has in fact increased diversity on college campuses. As for Harvard, evidence showed little progress. The student body demographics remained relatively consistent over the years, according to CNN. 

The lawyers from both universities argued that race-conscious policies have improved diversity among their student bodies and that its possible ban would cause backsliding. 

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is among the defenders of race-conscious policies. She says that it helps already disadvantaged applicants instead of giving them advantages surpassing other races. The holistic admission approach, which Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill use, considers other factors more than just race as an admission determinant.  

A decision will probably come by the end of June. Considering the 6-3 conservative-liberal majority in the high court, the end of affirmative action seems a matter of time. According to Higher Ed Dive, the Supreme Court may deliver a sweeping dismissal of race-conscious admissions, barring it among all colleges, or it could develop a more narrow ruling that would require UNC-Chapel Hill or Harvard to change their policies. 


 

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