Supreme Court to Hear Harvard, UNC Affirmative Action Cases Separately

The change paves the way for Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson ’92 to rule on the UNC case.


The Supreme Court will hear lawsuits challenging affirmative action at Harvard and the University of North Carolina separately, a procedural change that will allow newly seated Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson ’92 to rule on the UNC case.

The change, announced in a court order on Friday, comes six months after the court said it would jointly take up the cases, both brought by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions. Jackson, who previously served on the Harvard Board of Overseers, pledged during her Senate confirmation hearings that she would recuse herself from the Harvard case.

Jackson’s six-year term as a member of the University’s second-highest governing body concluded this year. She did not weigh in on the Friday order, the court said.

SFFA petitioned the Supreme Court last November to combine its lawsuits against Harvard and UNC, citing similarities between the two cases. The Supreme Court joined the cases when it agreed to take them up in January before Friday’s reversal.


The Harvard and UNC cases will each be allotted one hour for oral arguments. The cases are expected to be heard this year during the court’s fall term.

SFFA says the schools discriminate against Asian-American applicants and violate federal law by considering race in their admissions processes. The group first sued Harvard in 2014.

Harvard and UNC reject the allegation of discrimination. The schools contend they should be able to consider race as a factor in admissions in order to diversify their classes.

Affirmative action has survived several Supreme Court challenges in the past, but experts say its days are likely numbered with the current conservative majority.

SFFA asked the court in its May brief to overturn past precedent to ban affirmative action in college admissions. Dozens of Republican lawmakers have backed the effort.

Harvard and UNC’s reply is due to the Supreme Court on July 25.

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at

—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at