A recent federal court decision upholding the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill’s use of race in admissions is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case was brought against UNC–Chapel Hill in November 2014 by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which describes itself as a “group of more than 20,000 students, parents, and others who believe that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.”
The SFFA hopes that the high court will combine the UNC case with its earlier appeal challenging Harvard University’s allegedly discriminatory admissions policies.
“If the Supreme Court decides, as it should, to reconsider racial preferences in college admissions, it should consider that question in the context of both a private school and a public school,” Edward Blum, president and found of SFFA, said in a statement.
In the UNC case, the SFFA alleged that the public university unfairly favors black and Hispanic applicants over qualified white and Asian applicants in what the group described as “intentional discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity.”
“UNC–Chapel Hill’s racial preference for each underrepresented minority student (which equates to a penalty imposed upon white and Asian-American applicants) is so large that race becomes the defining feature of his or her application,” the SFFA stated in its complaint.
In October, U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs ruled that UNC’s admissions process did not discriminate against white and Asian American applicants, saying that it is constitutionally permissible for the university to further a “compelling and substantial interest in pursuing and attaining the educational benefits of diversity.”
“While no student can or should be admitted to this university, or any other, based solely on race, because race is so interwoven in every aspect of the lived experience of minority students, to ignore it, reduce its importance, and measure it only by statistical models as SFFA has done, misses important context to include obscuring racial barriers and obstacles that have been faced, overcome, and are yet to be overcome,” Biggs, an Obama appointee, said in her 161-page ruling (pdf).
Biggs further noted that UNC–Chapel Hill has enacted race-neutral measures to boost black and Hispanic enrollment, such as boosting financial aid to students of low-income families, but the university is still far from creating the “diverse environment” described in its mission statement.
“As a whole, underrepresented minorities are admitted at lower rates than their white and Asian American counterparts,” the judge wrote.
UNC did not respond to a request for comment, but it previously argued that it has taken an “individualized, holistic review” of each applicant and considers race “as only one factor” in the process.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court called on the Biden administration to weigh in on whether to revisit the lower court decision on Harvard admissions. In an unsigned order, the high court requested then-acting solicitor general Elizabeth Prelogar “to file a brief in this case expressing the views of the United States.”
The U.S. Department of Justice under the Trump administration sided with the SFFA in the Harvard case. It also filed a separate lawsuit against Yale University over alleged discrimination against white and Asian applicants in its admissions process, only to drop the suit shortly after President Joe Biden took office.