Hundreds of top American corporations and universities including Apple, Google, and seven Ivy League schools asked the Supreme Court to uphold affirmative action in amicus briefs filed this week as justices prepare to hear lawsuits challenging race-conscious admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
Sixty briefs were filed with the court representing more than 2,300 entities, including major corporations, Democratic lawmakers, military officials, and civil rights leaders. The Biden administration also submitted a brief asking the court not to do away with affirmative action.
Just shy of 80 Democratic officials signed onto briefs supporting Harvard and UNC, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Massachusetts Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren. An array of industry giants also backed the schools, including American Airlines, Uber, Starbucks, Meta, General Electric, and General Motors.
The filings come one week after Harvard and UNC asked the court to allow colleges and universities to consider race in their admissions processes. The schools are both being sued by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions, which alleges they illegally discriminate against Asian American applicants.
SFFA, which first sued Harvard in 2014, asked the Supreme Court in May to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, the landmark 2003 decision that allowed colleges and universities to consider race when making admissions decisions. Two lower courts have previously ruled in Harvard’s favor.
The Supreme Court agreed to jointly take up SFFA’s lawsuits against Harvard and UNC in January, but reversed course and separated the cases last month. More than 80 Republican lawmakers had previously filed briefs supporting SFFA in May.
Many of the amicus briefs outlined similar arguments, telling justices that race-conscious admissions at universities play a crucial role in fostering racial diversity.
The Biden administration argued in a 45-page filing submitted Monday that the Supreme Court should uphold precedent allowing race-conscious admissions, writing that “the educational benefits of diversity remain a compelling interest of vital importance to the United States.”
In a separate filing, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar requested to participate in oral arguments before the court this fall, noting that Harvard, UNC, and SFFA have all consented to the motion.
Attorneys general from 19 states and Washington, D.C., filed a brief supporting Harvard and UNC. Twenty states had filed briefs in support of SFFA in May.
Twenty-five Harvard student and alumni organizations, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, wrote in a brief filed last week that “race-conscious admissions are as important now as ever before—to ensure the ‘[e]ffective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our Nation.’”
“America in particular thrives when all of its children know they, too, can pursue and be rewarded for their hard work,” said Harold S. Lewis ’85, vice president of the group First Generation Harvard Alumni, which signed onto the amicus brief.
More than 30 senior U.S. military officials also filed a brief asking the court to uphold affirmative action. The group, which includes four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told justices that “officer corps diversity is far more than a laudable goal—it is a strategic imperative.”
“History has shown that placing a diverse Armed Forces under the command of homogenous leadership is a recipe for internal resentment, discord, and violence,” the officials wrote. “By contrast, units that are diverse across all levels are more cohesive, collaborative, and effective.”
Several civil rights organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the ACLU, also filed a brief in support of affirmative action.
In two separate filings, 80 major corporations argued that race-conscious admissions at universities play a vital role in training business leaders.
The companies wrote that they “are strengthened when their team members and leaders have rich and individualized experiences with people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. University education remains an essential environment for fulfilling that need.”
More than 100 colleges and universities asked the court to allow them to continue using race in their admissions processes.
Fifteen elite institutions — including the other seven Ivy League schools — wrote in a filing that a ruling in favor of SFFA “would break with this Court’s long tradition of granting universities wide latitude in their educational judgments—a tradition that protects universities’ own constitutional interests as well as the status of American higher education as the envy of the world.”
MIT and Stanford filed a brief with the tech companies IBM and Aeris that focused on the importance of racial diversity in STEM education and industry.
The University of California and University of Michigan systems — which are barred by state law from considering race in admissions — also submitted pro-affirmative action briefs to the court.
“The University’s 15-year-long experiment in race-neutral admissions thus is a cautionary tale that underscores the compelling need for selective universities to be able to consider race as one of many background factors about applicants,” the University of Michigan wrote.
Harvard College spokesperson Rachael Dane and SFFA founder Edward J. Blum both declined to comment on the filings.
SFFA’s reply to Harvard is due to the Supreme Court by August 25. The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case at the start of its fall term this year.
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue can be reached at email@example.com.