The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major ruling on affirmative action Tuesday, rejecting the use of race as a factor in college admissions as a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Many universities have argued that race-based admissions ensures that student bodies remain diverse, while critics such as the plaintiffs in the cases argue the policy discriminates against many qualified students based on race.
Students for Fair Admissions, a student activist group, brought cases against both Harvard and University of North Carolina. The group initially sued Harvard College in 2014 for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in any program or activity that receives Federal funds or other Federal financial assistance.”
The complaint against Harvard alleged that the school’s practices penalized Asian American students, and that they failed to employ race-neutral practices. The North Carolina case raised the issue of whether the university could reject the use of non-race-based practices without showing that they would bring down the school’s academic quality or negatively impact the benefits gained from campus diversity.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in Harvard’s favor, upholding the outcome of a district court bench trial. The district court said that the evidence against Harvard was inconclusive and “the observed discrimination” affected only a small pool of Asian American students. It ruled that SFFA did not have standing in the case.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself from the Harvard case due to her previous role on Harvard’s Board of Overseers.
In the UNC case, a federal district court ruled in the school’s favor, saying that its admissions practices withstood strict scrutiny.
The affirmative action cases gave rise to one of the most spirited court debates to occur within the Supreme Court building this past term, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito grilling Harvard’s lawyer, Seth Waxman.
Anders Hagstrom , Haley Chi-Sing , Brianna Herlihy | Fox News