Supreme Court Will Hear Affirmative Action Challenge at Harvard and UNC

By Linnette Cruz, 11th Grade

Affirmative action is known as the act of “positive discrimination”. It is a government policy that takes minority groups and gives them a small advantage in college admissions (meaning that their admission will not be based on merit alone) in the hope of mending the societal issues of racial bias, essentially creating a balance between white applicants and applicants of color. Affirmative action was first introduced in Executive Order 10925 by President John F. Kennedy in 1961–with the purpose of proving that the government promotes equal opportunities and condemning racism and discrimination. Affirmative action is often confused with the quota system, which is an admissions policy that requires a specific percentage–big or small–of minority group members to be admitted. The difference between these two terms is that racial quotas are not based on the academic success of a student and actually have the power to limit the number of students entering a university, while affirmative action works to remedy the disparities between races in higher education. 

On Monday, January 24, the Supreme Court of the United States consented to hear two challenges being made on race-based college admissions at the prestigious Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC). In autumn, SCOTUS will determine whether or not university admissions based on affirmative action violate civil rights laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. The acceptance of these cases will ultimately give the upper hand to the majority conservative body of justices to allow them to invalidate policies made to increase opportunities for members of minority groups who otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to attend these renowned institutions. 

Both cases were brought forth to the Supreme Court by members of Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a non-profit led by conservative activist Edward Blum. These lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina contend that the way these institutions seek to admit particular groups based on their race, gender, and sexuality, unlawfully target Asian-American students by pushing them to make excessive efforts and work harder to earn a spot in these extremely competitive schools–typically by displaying higher GPAs, SAT, and AP scores. Essentially, after years of failing to substantiate that affirmative action hurts white students, conservative groups like the SSFA are now attempting to convince the Supreme Court that aiding students of color is a direct attack on the rights of well-suited Asian American students. The lawsuit filed against UNC also asserted that the university’s admissions office grants more opportunities to members of black, Native American, and Hispanic heritage groups (BBC News, 2022). 

Despite the fact that affirmative action is an extremely controversial topic of discussion, the benefits of race-conscious admissions are necessary so that each student has a fair shot at achieving higher education. Together with creating more opportunities for members of less dominant racial groups, diversity at a college campus is fundamental to the formation of a student’s educational experience. A diverse campus opens college youth to a variety of different cultures, giving them a chance to open their minds and become aware of other lesser-known cultures. Furthermore, the children of today will eventually be the leaders of tomorrow; therefore, exposing them to new cultures will allow them to challenge their own prejudices, promoting self-growth that–in the long run–will be applied to their own personal lifestyles. 

This is not the first time that affirmative action has been questioned in the highest court of the United States. Affirmative action has been long debated for years, with the last time it reached the Court being in 2016. In Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin, SCOTUS held in a 4-3 decision that the university did not violate the Equal Protection Clause–which states that individuals must be treated equally by the law, condemning discrimination. However, this time around justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy won’t be present to make a final decision. With that said, it is possible that the decision made by the conservative-leaning Supreme Court will ultimately end the practice of affirmative action. Other instances in which affirmative action was challenged were in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke and Gratz v. Bollinger

If affirmative action were to end, white students would be the ones to benefit, not Asian Americans. The fact is that moving forward with this lawsuit will only vilify well-qualified students of color who actually rely on affirmative action for opportunities that would otherwise not be offered to them because of how minorities are viewed in the media. There is no doubt that white students have a significant advantage when it comes to having resources to attend prestigious schools like Harvard. Moreover, some may even argue that affirmative action actually gives white students a leg up in admissions because it shows that students of color cannot be admitted to elite schools without extra aid. 

This case–titled Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. the University of North Carolina–proves just how controversial affirmative action is, and the lengths that white supremacists are willing to go to in order to establish false narratives and put minority groups against each other. With Harvard’s acceptance rate being 5% (and dropping), the truth is that only the most accomplished and competent American youth can pursue higher education in the oldest learning institution in the United States. Every person is entitled to safe and benevolent high-quality teaching, and affirmative action has been the best conceived to the extent that it facilitates equal education rights to underrepresented minority groups. With that said, it will be interesting to watch how this never ending discussion of affirmative action unfolds once again in the U.S. Supreme Court building. 


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