The nation’s highest court will hear arguments on whether current admission practices’ at some of the most elite universities in the country are unconstitutional.
If and after the plaintiff is successful, and the Supreme Court endorses its position, millions of incoming college students may find that their race and ethnicity are no longer a part of the credentials that they use to compete with their peers to get into their dream schools.
Current admission practices at universities like Harvard University treat White and Asian-American students with stricter admission standards—a practice some call reverse discrimination—Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) alleges in its case against Harvard, currently before the Supreme Court.
The plaintiff is also seeking to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 Supreme Court decision that ruled the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit American colleges from using race as a factor in admitting students.
An impressive list of supporters has stood behind Harvard University, including legal institutes, U.S. lawmakers, and even the United States Department of Justice’s top lawyer who’s a Harvard Law graduate herself, Solicitor-General Elizabeth Prelogar. Non-profit organizations and state attorney generals have backed SFFA by submitting amicus briefs.
The Supreme Court will hear the arguments for the case starting Oct. 31, according to a case calendar the court released on Wednesday.
Race in AdmissionsThe plaintiff argues that Grutter was “grievously wrong,” in that it “departs from the Constitution’s original meaning, contradicts other precedents, has eroded over time, and has no true defenders.”
“The Amendment, according to its framers, enshrines the principle that ‘free government demands the abolition of all distinctions founded on color and race,’” the plaintiff said, citing the Fourteenth Amendment. “That principle was not new: the self-evident truth that ‘all men are created equal’ was a cornerstone of the American founding.”
Yet, according to the SFFA, “Harvard uses race at every stage of the admissions process.”
“To begin, Harvard recruits high-school students differently based on race,” the plaintiff wrote. “African-American and Hispanic students with PSAT scores of 1100 and up are invited to apply to Harvard, but white and Asian-American students must score a 1350.”
“As admissions decisions are made, Harvard monitors the racial makeup of each class through ‘onepagers,’” the plaintiffs added, alleging that Harvard monitors its racial makeup with “meticulous attention” and has kept it “remarkably stable” across incoming classes.
The plaintiff further claims that Harvard gives “substantial” preferences for African-American and Hispanic applicants in its admissions.
“For example, an Asian American in the fourth-lowest decile has virtually no chance of being admitted to Harvard (0.9%); but an African American in that decile has a higher chance of admission (12.8%) than an Asian American in the top decile (12.7%),” the plaintiff’s petition reads.
The plaintiff further called for the overturning of Grutter, saying the case’s holding “that universities can use race in admissions to pursue student-body diversity” satisfies all the criteria that this Court considers when overruling precedents.”
“Despite reaffirming that ‘all’ racial classifications must satisfy strict scrutiny, Grutter held that ‘student body diversity’ can ‘justify the use of race in university admissions,’” the plaintiffs wrote. “That holding departs from the Constitution’s original meaning, contradicts other precedents, has eroded over time, and has no true defenders.”
‘A Compelling Governmental Interest’The case has received wide attention from sports and academic organizations, college admission boards, State AGs, and even lawmakers in the U.S. Congress.
Even the DOJ’s Solicitor-General, Elizabeth Prelogar, got involved.
Meanwhile, non-profits supporting the plaintiff compared the “racial hierarchy” in the admission process of American universities with “repellant stereotypes historically used to justify discrimination and violence against Asian Americans.”
The Silicon Valley Chinese Association Foundation argued that Harvard’s consideration of race in its admissions is analogous to the “prejudicial assumptions and stereotypes that Harvard used in the 1920s and 1930s to justify its invidious discrimination against Jewish applicants in admissions.”
“Just as Harvard used methods in the 1920s and 1930s to identify applicants of sufficient ‘character and fitness’ as a pretext to discriminate against Jews, Harvard’s current use of the ‘personal rating’ to pursue student-body diversity is a pretext to discriminate against Asian Americans,” the foundation wrote.