The U.S. Supreme Court said on Monday that it’s agreed to hear two cases that challenge the consideration of race in admissions programs at two major American universities — adding another contentious issue to decide in its present term, which ends in five months.
The challenges come from two different suits — one at Harvard University in Massachusetts and the other at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In the Harvard case, Students for Fair Admission — a group founded by conservative Edward Blum — argues that affirmative action rules discriminate against Asian American students.
In the North Carolina case, the same group says similarly that Asian-American and White students are discriminated against in favor of Black and Latino applicants.
Students for Fair Admission has filed similar lawsuits against affirmative action nationwide.
In the past, the high court has upheld programs in which race is one of numerous factors considered in student admissions. The most recent challenge argued before the Supreme Court occurred in 2016. Since then, the high court has become more conservative — with three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump — and is expected to examine such practices more critically.
Both Harvard and UNC have prevailed at the federal level, and the decision in the Harvard case was affirmed on appeal in 2020.
With its new legal challenges, Students for Fair Admissions is asking justices to overturn a 2003 Supreme Court decision that upheld the use of race as a plus factor and a virtual template for other affirmative action admission programs.
“Every year, thousands of college applicants have been subjected to unfair and unconstitutional racial classifications and penalties by our nation’s most competitive institutions,” Blum said in a statement in November, when his organization filed the appeal to the Supreme Court.
“These polarizing practices — which a significant majority of all Americans oppose — must end as soon as possible.”
The issue of race in college admissions is the latest divisive issue that the Supreme Court will decide in its current term, which runs into June. Other subjects the court will also determine between now and then include multiple cases on gun rights, abortion and religion.
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