Supreme Court to hear case involving race-based affirmative action in admissions

Michael Perchick Image
Monday, October 31, 2022
SCOTUS to hear UNC race-based affirmative action in admissions case
A lawsuit, first filed in 2014, argues UNC and Harvard respective use of race as a factor in admissions is in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

WASHINGTON (WTVD) -- The Supreme Court is set to hear two cases Monday regarding challenges to the use of race-based affirmative action in admission policies at the University of North Carolina and Harvard.

The lawsuit, first filed in 2014, argues the universities respective uses of race as a factor in admissions is in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, with the UNC challenge also focused on the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment.

"We're mainly worried about this decision to have an adverse impact on the demographics of UNC. We already see that UNC's demographics aren't on-par with national demographics or even the state of North Carolina demographics when it comes to race. So thinking about how diversity, specifically among Black and Brown students would drop. The impacts it would have on Black Student Movement, El Pueblo. But also area-specific majors like African-American Studies and Latino Studies," said Jorren Biggs, a senior and Vice President of the Black Student Movement.

"Studies have shown that standardized testing is racially biased towards Black and Latino students particularly, and so if you're being judged purely on grades and standardized test scores, which are already proven to be based on race and class, then clearly that's not race-blind admissions either," added Julia Clark, fellow senior and President of the Black Student Movement.

Irving Joyner, a professor of law at NC Central, said race has played a role in admissions process for decades.

"In the past, it had been factored in in order to exclude African-Americans and racial minorities from the calculus. Now it is used to include, to ensure that the segregationist nature of past decisions did not continue. But you can't cure a problem without first of all recognizing the basis for the problem, and then creating a formula that would reverse what has occurred in the past," said Joyner.

Biggs, Clark, and Joyner all pointed to the importance of diversity and representation within a collegiate community.

"In order to have that diversity that makes more valuable the educational experience, you need to have information about just who it is that's seeking admission into the institution," said Irving Joyner, a Professor of Law at NC Central University.

"I think diversity is enrichment. And so if affirmative action promotes diversity, which we've seen that it does, then it is in fact fundamental to not only the functioning of this university, but also the growth of the student body as well," said Clark.

In a statement to ABC11, UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz backing that belief, writing:

"We are advocating before the Supreme Court that diversity is fundamental for thousands of colleges and universities across our country. Our nation needs the next generation of leaders to be ready to participate in our diverse democracy by thinking critically, embracing differences, and forging common ground. For decades, race conscious admissions practices have provided the opportunity of higher education to Americans who want to pursue a college education. America's most vital institutions - including hundreds of corporate, military and educational supporters - have affirmed Carolina's position and the importance of educating a diverse student body. I am confident in our holistic admissions policy and its ability to make life-changing opportunities possible."

"I find it deeply ironic because they're basically saying that Asians aren't diverse. If the value of diversity means Harvard has the right to discriminate against Asians, then what they're basically saying is there's too many Asians at Harvard for it to be considered a diverse university. So I reject the idea," countered Kenny Xu, a Raleigh-based author of An Inconvenient Minority, detailing admissions policies at universities.

Xu is a Board Member for Students for Fair Admissions, the group which filed the lawsuits.

"We're trying to eliminate race-based discrimination here. Nobody should be surprised that we're trying to create a more color-blind country where race is less of a factor in our country and admissions promotions and hiring," said Xu.

"The idea of trying to ensure you have a diverse student body, making sure history of discrimination against African-Americans doesn't continue for years into the future, that's a laudable goal. Everyone should want to pursue that. Using a new form of racial discrimination to make up for the past racial discrimination is not only unfair, and unnecessary, it's also unconstitutional," added Mitch Kokai, Senior Political Analyst with The John Locke Foundation.

Xu expressed confidence SFFA would be successful in their challenge, as Joyner pointed to the conservative leanings of the Court.

"It would be a decision that would have immediate repercussions in the same way that the Dobbs case had immediate repercussions," said Joyner.

"The key issue here is we are bound by our Constitution. And the Constitution says you are not supposed to take race into account when dealing with issues like admissions," said Kokai.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a Harvard alum, has recused herself from the case involving the school, though will participate in the UNC hearing. The challenge to UNC's policies are set to be heard in front of the Supreme Court at 10:00 Monday morning.