The Supreme Court Case on Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court Case on Affirmative Action

Today the Supreme Court heard two cases with enormous implications for the future of affirmative action in college admissions.

The suits – one filed against Harvard University, one against the University of North Carolina – were brought by Students for Fair Admissions, which argues that many current affirmative action policies violate the 14th Amendment by favoring Black and Hispanic applicants over White and Asian applicants.

Recent public opinion on affirmative action in college admissions is complicated. Critics of affirmative action can point to an April study by Pew, which found that 74% of Americans believe that universities shouldn’t consider race or ethnicity in deciding whether to admit a student – this includes majorities in each of the four racial and ethnic groups demarcated by the U.S. Census (White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian), and a majority of both Republicans and Democrats.

At the same time, most Americans genuinely do value diversity in higher education and support efforts to increase representation in higher education – a 2018 Gallup survey of more than 6,500 Americans found that 65% of respondents favored affirmative action programs for women, and 61% supported affirmative action for racial and ethnic minorities.

In past cases involving affirmative action, the Supreme Court has supported a position rejecting race-based admission quotas, while also noting that admissions officers could consider race to boost diversity as a net-benefit for universities. However, the makeup of the Supreme Court has changed since the last decision in 2016. It remains to be seen whether the Court will continue to hold this position, or if affirmative action in college admissions will be curtailed.