Supreme Court to Hear Cases Against Harvard, UNC on Affirmative Action

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Monday in a pair of cases that could overturn the use of racial preferences in college admissions, focusing on challenges to affirmative action policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

In both cases, the plaintiff is a non-profit group called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which alleges that affirmative action policies discriminate against Asian Americans, who otherwise would comprise a larger share of the student body at both colleges.

In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Court permitted the use of affirmative action in college admissions to achieve diversity, provided it did not operate like a quota system. That holding was later limited by two cases against the University of Michigan in 2003: Gratz struck down an undergraduate policy that gave points to applicants based on race, and Grutter upheld a law school policy that considered race as a factor. but did not assign points to applicants.

The cases are being heard together, though the one against Harvard involves a private university, and the one against the University of North Carolina involves a public one. The Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause only applies to private institutions when they take federal money. The case against Harvard focuses on civil rights laws; the case against the University of North Carolina is a broader constitutional case.


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