The anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, which is suing Harvard and the University of North Carolina over their use of race-conscious admissions practices, asked the United States Supreme Court last week to hear both cases together.
SFFA is seeking to overturn rulings by lower courts that have upheld the use of race in the admissions processes at both schools. Merging the cases would allow SFFA’s lawsuit against UNC to advance to the high court alongside the case against Harvard, which the group already petitioned the Supreme Court to take up.
“We hope the Supreme Court will use the Harvard and UNC cases to begin the restoration of the colorblind legal covenant that holds together Americans of all races and ethnicities,” SFFA President Edward J. Blum said in a press release.
In its most recent petition, SFFA questioned the use of race as a factor in admissions processes, which was previously upheld by the 2003 Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger.
The group argued that the suit against UNC is a “companion case” to the one filed against Harvard because they have “similar or identical issues of importance already pending before the Court.”
“SFFA is basically saying these cases go hand-in-hand,” said Vinay Harpalani, a law professor at the University of New Mexico.
Harpalani said the group is arguing that the cases complement each other because they both invoke Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the grounds of race, color, or national origin.” He added that the UNC case also invokes the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment because it is a public institution.
Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on SFFA’s petition.
SFFA asked the Supreme Court to hear its lawsuit against Harvard in February and the University submitted its opposition on May 17. In June, the Court delayed a decision on whether to hear the case, asking for input from the Biden administration.
The anti-affirmative action group first filed suit against Harvard in 2014, arguing that the University’s race-conscious admissions practices discriminate against Asian Americans and violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Harvard won the first trial in Massachusetts District Court in October 2019, and the result was upheld by an appellate court in November 2020.
UNC Chapel Hill law professor Theodore M. Shaw said SFFA’s goal is to “strike a death blow” to affirmative action in the U.S.
“This is the most conservative Supreme Court that we have seen, certainly during our lifetime,” Shaw said. “It could do a lot of damage to opportunity for Black and brown students to attend selective institutions of higher education.”
Harpalani said SFFA’s petition may allow the Supreme Court to hear the UNC case sooner. He added that the petition could make the court more inclined to grant a writ of certiorari.
“Even if they only heard the Harvard case — or denied cert on Harvard and later only heard the UNC case — chances are pretty good that they would overrule Grutter,” he said.
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