SCOTUS considers affirmative action cases

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Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 10:40 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - Two affirmative action cases have made their way to the Supreme Court: Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard, and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina.

Both were argued before the court on October 31.

The Harvard case claims the practice of affirmative action violates the civil rights act of 1964, and the UNC case argues that race-conscious admissions violate the 14th amendment.

As the concept of affirmative action is once again set to face the scrutiny of the supreme court, Dr. Rob Shelby, the Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Evansville, is preparing for a potential monumental shift.

“It could literally change the face of higher education,” said Shelby.

Affirmative action in colleges is a set of policies and procedures many schools use to ensure that their student body is diverse.

Dr. Shelby said, in theory, it exists in highly selective schools because they have tons of applications, but a disproportionate number of students tend to come from similar backgrounds.

“When you think about the disparities in education K-12, who are the best candidates?” said Shelby.

He said the idea is to make a pool of similarly-qualified candidates a more diverse, proportionately represented pool.

“It’s attempting to balance the scales to make sure that the students who wouldn’t have an opportunity actually have an opportunity,” Shelby said.

The Supreme Court Case Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College was brought against Harvard because plaintiffs claim that by factoring in race the school is being discriminatory.

Shelby and other proponents of affirmative action argue that without the policy, there could be more discrimination or, less severely, simple ignorance of minority student applications.

“It could impact admissions, which means fewer students coming from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds,” he said.

In a past court case, Fisher v. the University of Texas, the court ruled that diversity is a compelling government interest and therefore not illegal.

It stated that affirmative action is allowable so long as those policies serve that compelling interest and face strict scrutiny to ensure that interest.

“Our world is diversifying,” Shelby said. “It makes a lot of sense that we’re preparing our young people to be able to interact with people who are different from them.”

In Grutter v. Bollinger, they established that admissions processes can consider race, so long as it’s not the only factor, and so long as race is used as a plus factor and not a reason to deny an applicant.

The current cases began with an argument that Asian students are admitted less frequently than other races, implying a ranking system, while also alleging that their race was a determining factor.

The University of Evansville does not factor race when admitting students, but Dr. Shelby said it would alter demographics country-wide.

Most Supreme Court decisions are released in June.