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Supreme Court takes issue with race-based college admissions – Chicago Tribune

The future of affirmative action in higher education is up for grabs as the Supreme Court cracks down on admissions programs at the nation’s oldest public and private universities.

On Monday, the justices will hear arguments in challenges to policies at the University of North Carolina and Harvard that consider race among many factors when evaluating admissions applications.

After overturning nearly 50 years of precedent in Roe v. Wade in June, the cases offer another test of whether the now conservative-dominated court will shift to the right on another of the nation’s most contentious cultural issues.

The Supreme Court has upheld race-based college admissions programs twice in the past 19 years, including just six years ago.

But that was before three appointees of President Donald Trump joined, as well as Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black woman on the court.

Lower courts have upheld the programs at both UNC and Harvard, rejecting claims that the schools discriminated against white and Asian-American applicants.

The cases are being brought by conservative activist Edward Blum, who was also behind the earlier stand against the University of Texas, as well as the case that led to the court striking down a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act in 2013.

Blum founded Students for Fair Admissions, which filed lawsuits against both schools in 2014.

The group argues that the Constitution prohibits the use of racial profiling in college admissions, and is calling for an overturn of previous Supreme Court decisions that said otherwise.

Students for Fair Admissions argue that colleges and universities can use other, race-neutral ways to recruit a diverse student body, including focusing on socioeconomic status and depriving children of graduates.

Schools say they use race in a limited way, but eliminating it as a factor entirely would make it much more difficult to create a student body that looks like America.

The Biden administration is urging the court to preserve the racial recognition. The Trump administration took the opposite position in the early stages of the proceedings.

UNC says its freshman class is about 65% white, 22% Asian American, 10% black and 10% Hispanic. The numbers add up to more than 100% because some students report being in more than one category, a school official said.

White students make up just over 40% of Harvard’s freshmen, the school said. The class is also just under 28% Asian American, 14% black, and 12% Hispanic.

Nine states already prohibit race-based admissions to public colleges and universities: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.

In 2020, California voters easily rejected a ballot measure to restore affirmative action.

Public opinion on a topic varies depending on how the question is asked. A 2021 Gallup poll found that 62% of Americans favor affirmative action programs for racial minorities. But in a March Pew Research Center poll, 74% of Americans, including majorities of blacks and Hispanics, said race and ethnicity should not be considered in college admissions.

Jackson and Chief Justice John Roberts received their undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard. Two other judges went to law school there.

But Jackson sits on the Harvard case because she was, until recently, a member of the advisory governing board.

A decision on the affirmative action cases is not expected until late spring.


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