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Could Time Be Up for Race-Based Admissions?

October 28, 2022

If the Supreme Court strikes down UNC’s and Harvard’s affirmative action policies, it could represent a significant step toward color-blind admission policies.

In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a public university’s practice of basing its admissions decisions on students’ race. In the court’s majority opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that “25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” But this Monday, the court will be asked to accelerate that deadline when it hears arguments in two cases that could determine the legality of race-based admissions policies, under both the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The lawsuits were brought by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a group of more than 20,000 students and parents who believe “a student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.” SFFA sued the University of North Carolina (UNC), a public school, and Harvard University, a private school, for using race when selecting students. According to the lawsuits, the universities’ practices penalize students of certain races, such as Asian Americans. Indeed, Harvard’s racial makeup has remained consistent over the years, despite changes in application rates of students with different racial backgrounds, revealing that its policies aim to achieve a “predetermined racial balance” at the school.

The Supreme Court has always been careful not to endorse full-blown racial quotas, but it has permitted schools to take race into account in significant ways. The Harvard and UNC cases represent the first time this question has been squarely before the court in nearly two decades, when the court, in a pair of cases involving the University of Michigan, narrowly endorsed race-conscious admissions programs, as long as race was only part of the consideration.

Read the rest of the op-ed at Discourse Magazine. 

Christina Sandefur is the Executive Vice President of the Goldwater Institute.



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