SCOTUS poised to hear challenge to affirmative action in higher ed. admissions

In a development certain to strike fear in the hearts of liberal Democrats everywhere, the United States Supreme Court announced on Monday that it will hear challenges to race-based admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC), as Fox News reports.

The decision to hear the case brings the potential to end, once and for all, the use of affirmative action in the higher education admissions process, should the justices overturn the 2003 ruling in the case of Grutter v. Bollinger, which weighed the validity of racial considerations in assessing applicants to the University of Michigan Law School, as the New York Post noted.

In its most recent foray into the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education, in 2016, the high court upheld, in a 4-3 decision, a University of Texas policy in the face of a challenge lodged by a white woman, but it is worth noting that two of the justices who signed onto that opinion no longer sit on the court, and the panel now has a 6-3 conservative tilt.

In this instance, the high court will consolidate a pair of cases initiated by advocacy group Students for Fair Admissions against Harvard and UNC, respectively, alleging that the schools use race “at every stage of the admissions process” and intend to do so indefinitely in a manner that primarily benefits Black and Hispanic applicants – even those who do not come from disadvantaged backgrounds – and harms Asian ones.

Those challenging Harvard’s policy in particular have claimed that the school places a “racial penalty” on Asian-American applicants and lavishes “massive preferences” on Black and Hispanic college hopefuls, asserting that the Ivy League institution intentionally caps the number of Asian students in an incoming class to no more than 20%.

The group also alleged that “African-American and Hispanic students with PSAT scores of 1100 and up are invited to apply to Harvard, but white and Asian-American students must score a 1350,” adding that “in some parts of the country, Asian-American applicants must score higher than all other racial groups, including whites, to be recruited by Harvard.”

Responding to the group’s petition to the Supreme Court, Harvard claimed that its admissions practices do not result in anti-Asian discrimination and that because it cannot admit every applicant with a perfect academic record, it must consider factors including “the capacity to contribute to racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, or geographic diversity,” as Fox News noted.

Both schools have already notched victories in the lower courts, and while the administration of former President Donald Trump voiced support for the lawsuits against the two schools, the Biden administration has made no secret of the fact that it backs the continued use of race-based college admissions, according to the Post.

Arguments in the consolidated case are set to be heard this coming fall, with a decision likely to be handed down in June of 2023, and with the very concept of affirmative action in college admissions hanging in the balance, the eyes of the nation will surely be on the high court at that time.