North Carolina Asks Supreme Court to Deny Challenge to Race-Based Admissions at UNC

By Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.
December 21, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021

North Carolina is urging the Supreme Court to throw out a watchdog group’s challenge to the University of North Carolina’s partially race-based admission policies.

The case is Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. University of North Carolina, court file 21-707, an appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) describes itself as “a nonprofit membership 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.”

In its still-pending petition before the Supreme Court, the Arlington, Virginia-based SFFA argued that the court has wrongly “abandoned the principle of racial neutrality” and given “broad deference to university administrators to pursue a diversity interest that is far from compelling.” The precedents the court follows have become “a license to engage in outright racial balancing.”

In October, a federal district judge ruled in favor of the University of North Carolina (UNC), saying its policies were properly tailored to achieve its interest in supporting student diversity. The judge determined that an applicant’s race “appears to be less than or equally important to several other data points considered within a holistic process.”

SFFA sued Harvard in 2014 over its race-conscious admissions policies, claiming it discriminates against Asian Americans in order to favor blacks and Latinos. Harvard won at the lower levels. The Biden administration supports Harvard’s position, breaking with the Trump administration.

The office of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, filed a brief with the Supreme Court on Dec. 20 on behalf of UNC.

In the document, the state argues that more than 40 years ago, the Supreme Court “adopted a framework for the lawful use of race in university admissions” and that an eight-day trial showed that UNC “has faithfully adhered to that framework.”

The school “has embraced diversity, in all its forms, as a core feature of its educational mission. It considers race flexibly as merely one factor among numerous factors in its holistic admissions process. And it has scrupulously studied and adopted workable race-neutral alternatives,” the brief states.

But SFFA attacks the high court’s “settled precedents that the University has meticulously followed,” the brief states, adding that there’s no split among the various circuits of the U.S. Court of Appeals and that “the law in this area has been stable for decades.”

This “stability has allowed the people themselves to decide the wisdom of race-conscious admissions policies. Any bid to overturn precedents that have engendered such significant reliance interests should proceed according to the ordinary appellate process. Respect for precedent demands nothing less.”

UNC said separately that SFFA’s lawsuit “is part of a national legal strategy to overturn the narrowly tailored approach of using race in admissions that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly endorsed, most recently in 2016.” SFFA has also brought a similar lawsuit against the University of Texas–Austin.

When filing SFFA’s petition with the high court last month, SFFA President Edward Blum said he hoped the court would agree to hear both the UNC and Harvard admissions cases.

“Every year, thousands of college applicants have been subjected to unfair and unconstitutional racial classifications and penalties by our nation’s most competitive institutions. These polarizing practices—which a significant majority of all Americans oppose— must end as soon as possible,” Blum said in a statement at the time.

“The cornerstone of our nation’s civil rights laws is the principle that an individual’s race should not be used to help or harm them in their life’s endeavors.”

Conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices have been saying for years that they’re growing tired of race-based policies in the education sector.

Critics of affirmative action in college admissions say it’s time for the government-enforced racially discriminatory policy to end.

They quote the words of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who felt the practice was a necessary evil. In Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), she wrote, “We expect that 25 years from now the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

Making race-conscious admissions decisions is “dangerous,” O’Connor wrote, calling it a “deviation from the norm of equal treatment.” Such programs must “be limited in time,” she stated, adding that “all governmental use of race must have a logical end point.”

Matthew Vadum
Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist and a recognized expert in left-wing activism.