The survival of affirmative action in higher education appeared to be in serious trouble Monday at a conservative-dominated Supreme Court after hours of debate over vexing questions of race.
The most diverse court in the nation’s history — among the nine justices are four women, two Black people and a Latina — is weighing challenges to admissions programs at the University of North Carolina and Harvard that use race among many factors in seeking a diverse student body.
The court’s six conservative justices all expressed doubts about the practice, which has been upheld under Supreme Court decisions reaching back to 1978. The court’s three liberals defended the programs, which are similar to those used by many other private and public universities.
Getting rid of race-conscious college admissions would have a “destabilizing” effect that would cause the ranks of Black and Latino students to plummet at the nation’s most selective schools, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, representing the Biden administration, said.
Following the overturning of the half-century abortion precedent of Roe v. Wade in June, the cases offer a big new test of whether the court, with its 6-3 conservative edge, will sharply steer the law to the right on another contentious cultural issue that conservatives have had in their sights for years.
The questions the justices offered further laid bare the stark ideological divisions on the court in an era of intense political polarization in the country.