Supreme Court Addresses Race-Based College Admissions

WASHINGTON — Members of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority are questioning the continued use of affirmative action in higher education in a lengthy argument Monday in which the justices wrestle with complex issues of race.

The justices scheduled at least one hour and forty minutes of arguments and heard from six different lawyers challenging the policies of the University of North Carolina and Harvard. These policies consider race among many factors when evaluating applications for admission.

After overturning the half-century precedent of Roe v. Wade in June, the cases offer a major new test of whether the court, now dominated 6-3 by conservatives, will shift to the right on another of the nation’s most contentious cultural issues. questions.

During the arguments on the first of the two cases, the court was divided along ideological lines on the issue of affirmative action.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the second black justice on the court, which has long opposed affirmative action programs, noted that he did not attend racially diverse schools. “I’ve heard the word ‘diversity’ quite a few times and I have no idea what it means,” the conservative judge said at one point. At another point he said, “Tell me, what are the educational advantages?”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, another conservative, pointed to one of the previous affirmative action court cases and said she was expected to end the use of affirmative action, saying it was “dangerous and must come to an end.” When, she asked, is this the end point?

Justice Samuel Alito compared affirmative action to a race in which a minority challenger must “start five yards closer to the finish line.” But liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Hispanic justice, rejected that comparison, saying universities look at students as a whole.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the court’s new judge and first black woman, also said race is used at the University of North Carolina as part of a broad review of applicants based on 40 different factors.

“They’re looking at a complete person with all these characteristics,” she said.

Justice Elena Kagan called universities “pipelines to leadership in our society” and suggested that minority recruitment would decline without affirmative action.

“I thought that part of what it means to be American and to believe in American pluralism is that really our institutions, you know, reflect who we are as people in all of our diversity,” she said.

The Supreme Court has upheld race-based college admissions programs twice in the past 19 years, including just six years ago.

But that was before three appointees of former President Donald Trump joined. This year, Jackson was chosen by President Joe Biden.

Lower courts have upheld the programs at both UNC and Harvard, rejecting claims that the schools discriminated against white and Asian-American applicants.

The cases are being brought by conservative activist Edward Blum, who was also behind the earlier stand against the University of Texas, as well as the 2013 case that ended the court’s use of a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act.

Blum founded Students for Fair Admissions, which filed lawsuits against both schools in 2014.

The group argues that the Constitution prohibits the use of racial profiling in college admissions and is calling for the reversal of previous Supreme Court decisions that said otherwise.

Colleges and universities can use other, race-neutral ways to recruit a diverse student body, including focusing on socioeconomic status and depriving the children of graduates, Students for Fair Admissions argues.

Schools say they use race in a limited way, but eliminating it as a factor entirely would make it much more difficult to create a student body that looks like America.

The Biden administration is urging the court to preserve the racial recognition. The Trump administration took the opposite position in the early stages of the proceedings.

UNC says its freshman class is about 65% white, 22% Asian American, 10% black and 10% Hispanic. The numbers add up to more than 100% because some students report being in more than one category, a school official said.

White students make up just over 40% of Harvard’s freshmen, the school said. The class is also just under 28% Asian American, 14% black, and 12% Hispanic.

Nine states already prohibit race-based admissions to public colleges and universities: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.

In 2020, California voters easily rejected a ballot measure to restore affirmative action.

Public opinion on a topic varies depending on how the question is asked. A 2021 Gallup poll found that 62% of Americans favor affirmative action programs for racial minorities. But in a March Pew Research Center poll, 74% of Americans, including majorities of blacks and Hispanics, said race and ethnicity should not be considered in college admissions.

Jackson and Chief Justice John Roberts received their undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard. Two other judges went to law school there.

But Jackson sits on the Harvard case because she was, until recently, a member of the advisory governing board.

A decision on the affirmative action cases is not expected until late spring.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.

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