Harvard Urges The Supreme Court To Keep Affirmative Action

21K School · Feb 8, 2023 · 4 min read

Harvard Urges The Supreme Court To Keep Affirmative Action

On July 29, dozens of businesses, civil rights organizations, academics, teachers’ unions, current and former US senators, and others submitted legal briefs to the US Supreme Court. They urge the court to uphold the long-standing precedent designed to allow the utilization of race to boost uniqueness in university admissions.

All About The Affirmative Action

For decades, the court has repeatedly upheld the affirmative action practice of selecting students based on race and ethnicity by colleges and universities. However, the US supreme court’s conservative supermajority threatens to overrule yet another enduring precedent as it gets to hear court proceedings. This fall, two cases were brought against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), following a historical phrase in which the court abolished the long-standing right to abortion.

Current Harvard students and alumni said in one statement that the university would lose out on remarkable individuals whose ethno-racial affiliations were fundamental to their applicants and who would have otherwise been missed if the top court forbade Harvard from taking race into account. In another case, lawyers contended that businesses rely on colleges to seek, admit and educate professionally competent, racially and culturally diverse pupils to become future workforce and corporate leaders. They were defending more than 60 companies and corporations.

In another, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which advocates on behalf of Asian students and is assisting Harvard’s claim, claimed that excluding race as a factor would hinder universities’ capacity to achieve the instructional advantages of diversity and harm people of colour and undo the advancement that has been fiercely contested and won, and stop progress where it is still required.

The most recent instances before the supreme court started in 2014 when Students for Fair Admissions, an organization that rejected racial bias and was premised by Edward Blum, who is best known for being the driving force behind the civil suit that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act, prosecuted Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, claiming that their race-conscious acceptance rate was inconsistent with the constitution and persecuted against Asian American students.

When the University of Texas at Austin’s admissions procedure was affirmed in an utterly separate suit filed by Abigail Fisher, a white woman who claimed she was refused entry as a consequence of the process, the supreme court affirmed the constitutionality of using race as a consideration in college admissions two years later. Fisher claimed she was refused entry due to the procedure. A federal appeals court in Boston decided to favour Harvard in November 2020.

After taking up the Harvard and UNC issues jointly, the supreme court decided to split them in late July so that Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson could comment on the UNC case.

Since 1978, when the court initially split over a case involving Allan Bakke, a white man who was refused admission to the University of California at Davis’s medical school, positive discrimination in higher education has been a topic of “deep ambiguity” for the US supreme court, according to Justin Driver, a law professor at Yale University Law School. Associate Justice Lewis Powell struck a compromise, finding that the quota system was illegal. However, that race may still be one of many considerations in the admissions policy to promote diversity.

According to Driver, the court has not always upheld race-conscious admissions policies. At the same time, despite being reticent to support affirmative action, it has declined.

The driver said that Republican-appointed justices have consistently resisted the urge to enforce constitutional colourblindness in college admissions. Most significantly, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor supported the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions policy in 2003, finding in Grutter v. Bollinger that the policy did not “unduly prejudice nonminority candidates” due to its “individualized inquiry” of candidates.

The conservative majority on this court differs from prior ones in the following ways: John Roberts, the Chief Justice, has advocated for educational initiatives that are more racially neutral. Roberts famously stated that “the approach to combat discrimination on the grounds of racism is to stop discrimination on the grounds of race” in a 2007 Supreme Court decision that overturned desegregation initiatives in Seattle and Louisville for assigning students to ivy league schools and other universities based on race.


Theodore Shaw, Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and Executive Director of UNC’s Center for Civil Rights, voiced concerns that if the current supreme court rules against racial admission standards, the court’s decision would have “serious” impacts on possibilities for Black and brown students, leading to less diverse student bodies.


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