Court Seems Likely to Curb Race in College Admissions

Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in two major affirmative action cases
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2022 1:24 PM CDT
Affirmative Action On the Line at Supreme Court
Activists demonstrate as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments on a pair of cases that could decide the future of affirmative action in college admissions in Washington, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments Monday in two cases that will decide the future of affirmative action in higher education. The first case was lodged by Students for Fair Admissions, which is “challenging race-conscious admissions practices” at UNC Chapel Hill, according to Politico, which reports that the majority of justices on Monday sounded “inclined to further restrict the use of race in college admissions.” Referring to the landmark 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision, which allowed colleges to consider race as part of a carefully tailored admissions program, Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked UNC’s lawyer, North Carolina Solicitor General Ryan Park, “When does it end? When is your sunset?”

Per the Washington Post, Park presented evidence showing UNC can “meet what we feel is an inclusive, diverse environment through minimal consideration of race … but there is no strict numerical bench.” Earlier, Patrick Strawbridge, a lawyer representing SFFA, said affirmative action is unconstitutional and compared it to Jim Crow. The debate prompted considerable participation from Clarence Thomas, a fierce opponent of race-based affirmative action. Per the New York Times, Thomas challenged the “educational benefits of diversity,” questioning whether it was relevant to students’ understanding chemistry or physics “or whatever they’re studying.” A decision is not expected until spring, per the AP.

  • Second case: The other case will feature Harvard, which SFFA accuses of discriminating against Asian-American applicants by holding them to higher standards than other groups, per CNN.
  • Public opinion: The court’s ultimate decision will likely fall along predictable lines, but this time, the conservative majority may be aligned with the majority of Americans, 60% of whom favor leaving race out of college admissions, also per the Post, which notes that a similar majority still favors increased racial diversity on campuses.
  • On the left: Liberal observers predict “disaster,” as expressed in this Atlantic opinion piece by Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University (and the same Bollinger named in the 2003 Grutter case above).
  • On the right: By contrast, reflecting the opinion of mainstream conservatives, Renu Mukherjee of the Manhattan Institute argues in this New York Times essay that race-neutral alternatives can greatly increase socioeconomic diversity, helping to meet racial-diversity goals in the process.
(More affirmative action stories.)

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