Supreme Court Restricts Use of Race in College Admissions
On June 29, the Supreme Court issued their much-awaited Opinion in the case challenging the admissions practices of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. In a 6-3 decision, the Court found that the “race-based” admission policies of both institutions violate the Constitutional precept that all people are entitled to “equal protection” under the law, as well as the Civil Rights protection against race-based discrimination. The Court noted that both institutions’ admissions processes permitted race to be considered as a determinative characteristic, among other characteristics, supporting the extension of an offer of admission. In support of their finding that such a practice is not lawful, the Court wrote: “[e]liminating racial discrimination means eliminating all of it.”
The policies of Harvard and UNC were carefully designed, and deemed lawful by two lower courts before the Supreme Court’s reversal today. Harvard and UNC argued that their policies promoted commendable interests such as the educational benefits of diversity, training future leaders, acquiring new knowledge based on diverse outlooks, promoting a robust marketplace of ideas, and preparing engaged and productive citizens. While the Supreme Court agreed that these are commendable interests, according to the Court, they were not “coherent” enough to support the use of “race-based” admissions policies.
This Opinion directly impacts educational institutions that accept federal funds, since, under the law, the acceptance of these funds militates a more rigid examination of “race-based” admissions policies and puts the institution within this Opinion’s purview. Under this Opinion, admissions policies that “lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points” cannot be reconciled with the law, and must, accordingly, be discontinued. Also, although this Opinion is based on admissions policies, we expect that it could impact other aspects of college life by curtailing the use of race as a factor in minority scholarship and fellowship programs, and potentially even DEI initiatives in employment. The secondary effects of this decision will start to be seen in the months to come.
Please feel free to reach out with any questions to any member of our Education, Labor and Employment Law Practice Group at (518) 487-7600 – Beth Bourassa; Mackenzie Brennan, Erin Callahan, Norma Meacham, Kevin Quinn, Robert Schofield, or Katherine Wentworth-Ping.