Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Challenges to Colleges Using Race in Admissions

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
January 24, 2022 Updated: January 24, 2022

A students group that disagrees with how some colleges use race to determine which applicants to admit will have the opportunity to present their case to the nation’s top court.

The Supreme Court announced on Jan. 24 that it has granted writs of certiorari—requests for review of lower court decisions—from Students for Fair Admissions in cases involving the University of North Carolina and Harvard University.

The separate cases were consolidated and one hour was allotted for oral arguments at a later date.

The U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment and Title VI dictate that schools aren’t allowed to use race in the admissions process, according to the petitions to the court.

“The same Fourteenth Amendment that required public schools to dismantle segregation after Brown cannot be cowed by the diktats of university administrators,” the petitions read, referring to Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that found “separate but equal” educational facilities violated the 14th Amendment.

Harvard and the University of North Carolina have acknowledged that they use race as a factor in admission decisions, but say that such consideration doesn’t violate federal law or the Constitution.

North Carolina Attorney General Joshua Stein and Solicitor General Ryan Park, responding on behalf of the University of North Carolina, said the college “considers race flexibly as merely one factor among numerous factors in its holistic admissions process” and does so in a way that abides by legal precedent established by earlier Supreme Court rulings.

Federal district judges have ruled in favor of the universities, and those rulings were upheld by appeals courts.

An attorney for Harvard University declined to comment on the Supreme Court action. Attorneys for the University of North Carolina and Students for Fair Admissions didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a statement made when lodging the petitions for review, the student group said the admission practices affect thousands of college applicants annually and that they should be ended.

“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. We hope the Supreme Court will use the Harvard and UNC [University of North Carolina] cases to begin the restoration of the colorblind legal covenant that holds together Americans of all races and ethnicities,” Edward Blum, president of the group, said at the time.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.