The end of Affirmative Action? Supreme Court case claiming Harvard discriminated against white and Asian applicants will be heard this week, with conservative majority expected to strike the policy down

  • Cases are being brought against Harvard and the University of North Carolina
  • They allege that white and Asian students were discriminated against
  • The conservative Supreme Court is expected to rule against the universities
  • It could mark the end of affirmative action – especially for college admission 
  • The suits were brought by Students for Fair Admissions founded by Edward Blum

Affirmative action admission policies used by universities to ostensibly improve diversity are expected to be struck down in Supreme Court cases due to be heard this week.

Oral arguments will be heard on Monday over whether Harvard and the University of North Carolina discriminated against white and Asian applicants during their admissions processes.

The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 majority, is expected to quash these policies, many of which were introduced decades ago.

Its newest justice Ketanji Brown Jackson – the first black female justice, and one of the court’s three liberals – will recuse herself from hearing this case.

She did so because she sits on Harvard’s overseers governing board, having previously attended the college as an undergraduate and a law student.  

The schools argue that affirmative action policies – that enable them to take race into account when considering applicants – help them to create diverse learning environments. 

On Monday the Supreme Court will hear two cases – involving North Carolina and Harvard – that will challenge the legality and constitutionality of these so-called affirmative action schemes.

Cases against Harvard University and the University of Northern California will be heard in the Supreme Court starting on Monday

The current set of Supreme Court Judges, who are considered conservative by historic standards, are widely expected to rule against the universities

The current set of Supreme Court Judges, who are considered conservative by historic standards, are widely expected to rule against the universities

The schools are being sued by Students for Fair Admissions which was founded by Edward Blum, 70. He is a major proponent of eliminating affirmative action policies and has brought eight cases to the Supreme Court

The schools are being sued by Students for Fair Admissions which was founded by Edward Blum, 70. He is a major proponent of eliminating affirmative action policies and has brought eight cases to the Supreme Court

Both cases were brought by a group called Students for Fair Admissions which was founded in 2005 by Edward Blum, 70, a former stockbroker. 

Since 1996, Blum has orchestrated eight lawsuits that have made it to the Supreme Court.

‘I’m a one-trick pony,’ Blum said in an interview with Reuters. ‘I hope and care about ending these racial classifications and preferences in our public policy.’ 

He added: ‘An individual’s race or ethnicity should not be used to help them or harm them in their life’s endeavors.’ 

Harvard is accused of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prevents the discrimination based on race, color or national origin under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance

Harvard is accused of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prevents the discrimination based on race, color or national origin under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance

Another case claims that the University of North Carolina breached the 14th Amendment that guarantees equal protection under law

Another case claims that the University of North Carolina breached the 14th Amendment that guarantees equal protection under law

The term affirmative actions describes a set of policies designed to increase the representation of certain groups of people based on characteristics including race, gender and religion. 

Such policies have been spoken about since the 1960s as a means of eliminating discrimination against marginalized groups by improving improving their employment or educational opportunities. 

Affirmative action policies usually work by placing requirements on institutions to admit set quotas of individuals of specific background into their organizations – those institutions often include universities and employers. 

In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled that Michigan Law School could consider race in admissions procedures in order to achieve a diverse student body. It was ruled in what were regarded as the most important affirmative action cases in 25 years.

But in recent decades affirmative action has become an increasingly unpopular approach to dealing with racial inequalities within institutions and in society.

Advocates of the approach argue that such policies reverse the historical impact of racism but skeptics argue that it is a form of ‘reverse discrimination’ that only benefits the most privileged in a minority group.

‘The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,’ Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a 2007 opinion about the use of race when assigning kids to public schools.

'The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,' Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a 2007 opinion

‘The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,’ Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a 2007 opinion

Most recently in 2016 Blum lost a case challenging student admissions considering race when the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 against a white woman who he recruited as a plaintiff suing the University of Texas.

He called the 2016 judgement a ‘grave disappointment.’

One of the new lawsuits accuses Harvard of violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prevents the discrimination based on race, color or national origin under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

The other brought against UNC alleges that the university breached the 14th Amendment that guarantees equal protection under law.

Rulings in both case are expected by the end of June. 

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