Two affirmative action cases are currently being considered by the Supreme Court. Since the beginning, affirmative action has been highly contested and remains a controversial discussion today. Although many affirmative action cases have been brought to the Supreme Court in the past, people speculate that the 2022 affirmative action Supreme Court case may overturn our country’s precedent for affirmative action, on account of the court’s conservative majority. 

Affirmative action is a complicated and sensitive concept and holistic college admission standards may be affected. In this article, we will provide a basic summary of the cases, followed by a brief explanation of affirmative action. At the end of the article, we will discuss the possibility of affirmative action being overturned and what that could mean for today’s college admissions standards. 

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2022 Affirmative Action cases: what you need to know

On October 31st, 2022, the Supreme Court held a hearing for two cases concerning the role of affirmative action within the context of college admissions. The two schools currently under scrutiny are Harvard and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Both of these cases were brought to the court by the Students for Fair Admissions, led by Edward Blum, a legal activist concerned with the constitutionality of “race-conscious” decision-making.

Although these two cases are being discussed simultaneously, there are some key differences between the cases. The main difference is that Harvard is a private institution and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill is a publicly-funded institution. Because UNC is a public institution, it is subjected to more restrictions on account of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial discrimination by institutions that receive federal funding. 

In summary, plaintiffs in the UNC case claim that the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill discriminates against white and Asian-American applicants, by favoring Black, Latino, and Native American applicants. Similarly, plaintiffs in the Harvard case claim that the college discriminates against Asian-American students by prioritizing subjective admissions standards such as kindness and likability. 

The Supreme Court will most likely make its decision regarding these two cases in June 2023. In the meantime, colleges and students are left wondering how admissions practices may be affected if affirmative action is overturned by a conservative majority. 

What is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action policies are mostly used at highly-selective colleges, primarily Ivy League institutions. Proponents of affirmative action believe that considering an applicant’s race and gender helps colleges create culturally diverse learning environments while increasing opportunities for underserved populations. This principle plays a large role in holistic college admission standards

Other important Affirmative Action facts

Nine states currently prohibit the use of affirmative action for college admissions: California (1996), Washington (1998), Florida (1999), Michigan (2006), Nebraska (2008), Arizona (2010), New Hampshire (2012), Oklahoma (2012), and Idaho (2020). 

Although the majority of affirmative action cases have been deemed constitutional, there have been some restrictions placed on these policies. Namely, colleges are banned from using racial quotas. This policy went into effect after the affirmative action Supreme Court case presented in 1978. 

During this case, Allan Bakke, a white man who was rejected from UC Davis’ medical school, despite his high test scores, filed a lawsuit after learning that 16 out of 100 spots were reserved for students of color.

What does it mean if Affirmative Action is overturned?

It’s difficult to anticipate how this case could affect college admissions standards if affirmative action is overturned. Likely, colleges will experience a dip in diversity. That said, college admissions standards are often so subjective, it’s difficult to anticipate what the effect of this case may be, especially on minority students. The best we can do at this point is to continue to monitor the case and hopefully gain some insights from the various arguments presented in court.