Statue of John Harvard on Harvard University's campus

Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard; Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC

Court Type: U.S. Supreme Court
Status: Closed (Judgment)
Last Update: February 27, 2023

What's at Stake

This lawsuit contends that the consideration of race as an affirmative action measure in admissions at Harvard and at UNC constitutes racial discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

Students for Fair Admissions, led by long-time affirmative action critic Edward Blum, sued both Harvard and UNC, and ask the Supreme Court to overrule its prior decisions and hold that the consideration of race as part of a holistic college admissions process in order to achieve a diverse student body violates the Equal Protection Clause.

The ACLU filed an amicus brief urging the Court to uphold its prior precedent, and reaffirm that diversity is a “compelling governmental interest,” and that the modest consideration of race as one factor among many in admissions is narrowly tailored to achieve that end. The ACLU argues that a holistic, race-conscious admissions process to achieve diversity should be assessed as an exercise of the university’s academic freedom to assemble a student body that in it is judgment best advances learning. Additionally, the consideration of race in college admissions furthers the values of equal protection by helping to diminish stereotypes, promoting integration on college campuses, and improving the ability of students of all races to participate in the academic community.

The brief was filed on behalf of the ACLU, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the ACLU of North Carolina.

On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court issued rulings in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC restricting schools’ ability to use race as a factor in fostering diversity in their student bodies, overruling nearly fifty years of precedent permitting modest consideration of race for that purpose.

The court, however, stated that schools could consider essays from applicants discussing how their race is relevant to factors relevant to admission, such as overcoming discrimination and prejudice.

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