On Monday, January 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear two cases challenging affirmative action in admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC). The two cases will be consolidated for hearing, which will likely occur at the beginning of the Supreme Court’s next term in the fall.
In the Harvard case, the plaintiffs argue that the university’s admission process unlawfully discriminates against Asian Americans. The Court will determine whether Harvard’s process violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in federally funded programs. As for UNC, a state-funded university, the plaintiffs allege that the university favors Black, Hispanic and Native American applicants over white and Asian applicants in violation of Title VI and the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
These cases may upend long-standing policies designed to promote diversity in higher education and beyond. Universities have largely defended affirmative action and its related policies, arguing that it fosters and promotes diversity. As recently as 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the use of policies making an applicant’s racial identity one factor among many in the admission’s decision. However, court watchers expect that the current Court may go in a different direction, changing the course of race-conscious policies, and both regulations and restrictions surrounding the consideration of race could be introduced into admissions offices.