31 October 2022
The United States Supreme Court again is hearing arguments about race-based considerations in university admissions policies.
The cases concern such policies at the University of North Carolina (UNC), a public school, and Harvard, the nation's oldest private university.
The nation's highest court agreed to hear the legal actions after lower courts ruled in favor of both UNC and Harvard. The lower courts ruled that both schools followed past Supreme Court rulings, called precedents. It rejected accusations of discrimination against white and Asian-American students.
In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the University of Michigan's law school could consider race in its admissions process to create "a diverse educational environment." In 2016, the court ruled that the constitution does not bar consideration of race in a case about admission at the University of Texas at Austin.
The group Students for Fair Admissions, or SFFA, brought the legal actions against UNC and Harvard. The group's founder, Edward Blum, is a conservative activist. He brought similar legal action against the University of Texas and also organized against the Voting Rights Act.
The SFFA argued that the Constitution bars the use of race in college admissions and called for overturning earlier Supreme Court decisions that disagreed. Colleges and universities can use other, race-neutral ways to build a diverse student body, it said.
The group offered the possibility of considering a student's socioeconomic position, for example. It also said the schools should stop favoring applicants whose parents are former students.
During the hearings, the justices appeared to take different sides in the dispute.
Justice Clarence Thomas, who has a record of opposition to race consideration, said, "I've heard the word ‘diversity' quite a few times and I don't have a clue what it means." Justice Samuel Alito compared race consideration to giving minorities a starting point closer to the finish line.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is the court's newest justice and its first Black female member. She said UNC's admission programs are "looking at the full person with all of those characteristics." And Justice Elena Kagan called universities the "pipelines to leadership in our society" and suggested that without race consideration, fewer minority students could attend these colleges.
Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar represents the Biden administration. She said the schools' admission policies support national security interest.
Prelogar said, a diverse group of military officers is critical to national security. She said that requires race-based considerations in admissions, "including at the nation's service academies."
A decision in today's hearing is not expected before late spring.
I'm Caty Weaver.
Hai Do wrote this story for Learning English with additional reporting from The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
diverse - adj. made up of people and things that are different than each other
characteristic - n. the special quality that makes a person, or group different from others
society - n. people in a particular country, area, time