Should the Supreme Court Rule Against Affirmative Action?

The Supreme Court will likely decide to overturn the legal precedent for race-based college admissions in a lawsuit brought by an action group, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), against two high-profile universities: Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. Affirmative action is defined as a policy that seeks to include particular groups, in this case racial groups, into an institution in which they are underrepresented. Also known as “positive discrimination,” the practice has been controversial for allegedly discriminating especially against high-achieving Asian college applicants in favor of African American and Hispanic students.

Yes: Affirmative Action Has Many Flaws

by Matt Kauffman ‘23

A decision to outlaw affirmative action in college admissions is sure to trigger further backlash against an already polarizing Supreme Court, but may also shift the focus on college admissions to other, often more valuable measures of diversity than race. If the conservative majority decides to rule in favor of the plaintiff, the ruling will be based on firm legal precedent, as the court has previously struck down similar practices that seek to racially discriminate in pursuit of increased representation, and will stop the practice of punishing high-achieving students based on race.

The “model minority” myth contributes to higher expectations, often subconsciously, being placed on Asian students, who have claimed that an entire racial group is discriminated against because of generally high academic success compared to other groups. Although admissions processes are tightly guarded, a publication from Science Direct compiles data regarding the discrepancies in Harvard admissions, alleging that Asian American students suffer compared to other students, especially in the “personal and overall” ratings in which Harvard explicitly mentions race. The research found that Asian applicants were penalized based on race and that if the penalty was removed, the chances of an Asian being admitted would rise by nearly 20 percent.

The University of North Carolina (UNC) showed a similar pattern, according to Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed: “Analysis by the plaintiffs’ experts calculated that an Asian American male North Carolina applicant with a 25 percent chance of admission to UNC (based on grades and test scores) would have his probability increase to over 67 percent if he were Hispanic, and to over 90 percent if he were an African American.”

UNC claimed, in a blog post responding to claims made in SFFA’s lawsuit, that race is one of many factors they use in their admissions process. North Carolina is a need-blind school and pledges to match all documented financial need of its applicants. If this is the case, is the use of affirmative action justified when it harms deserving students?

Harvard contends that affirmative action has been an “indispensable tool” in crafting a more racially diverse campus in recent years, and, to their credit, the prestigious university has somewhat shifted away from being dominated by wealthy whites. However, Harvard’s use of legacy, the practice of taking into account relatives who are alumni while examining an applicant’s status, has been controversial. After a federal judge ordered Harvard to disclose admissions data, it was revealed that 36 percent of Harvard’s class of 2022 claimed a relative who was a student there in the past. Similarly, the acceptance rate for legacy applicants for the class of 2025 is 16 percent, a number significantly larger than the general acceptance rate of five percent (as of 2020). These revelations beg the question: is Harvard truly diverse because of affirmative action? While it is undeniable that the practice has increased the amount of diversity in the school, has it really served to create a community that is any less elite than it has been in the past?

SFFA’s argument claims that the universities give “mammoth racial preferences” to African American and Hispanic applicants, while ignoring “race-neutral” alternatives that would preserve student diversity. Harvard seeks to draw attention away from its legacy admissions and exorbitant costs by prioritizing racial diversity. However, universities would ideally award acceptance to the most deserving applicants, regardless of race.

No: Colleges Should Address Racism

by Gabi Admi ‘23

Affirmative action, a policy first initiated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s, aims to improve opportunities for people of color, women, and low-income individuals. The policy prioritizes diversity and aims to create equity for marginalized communities. Despite its successes over the past half-century, the Supreme Court likely will rule that affirmative action promotes “reverse discrimination.”

Systematic racism is a problem that has been plaguing the United States throughout its history and still continuing today. Systems put in place, such as segregation and discriminatory laws, prevented racial minorities and other marginalized groups from gaining access to higher education. The consequences of such inequities over generations are still felt by marginalized groups today.

White people as a population continue to have the upper hand when it comes to generational wealth and higher education. People in the socio-economic upper-middle and upper classes tend to get a better education due to living in wealthier areas with better public schools or having the privilege to go to private schools. The Pew Research Center concluded that “Whites are far more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree than blacks.” Additionally, data from the Federal Reserve concluded that “White families have the highest level of both median family wealth: $188, 200.” In comparison, black families, for example, have a median income of $24,100. Such significant disparities show the impacts of generational racism and why students’ race should be permitted as a consideration by college admissions officers.

Make no mistake, diversity will decrease on college campuses if the Supreme Court rules against affirmative action. After Michigan voters ended affirmative action in the state through a referendum in 2006, the University of Michigan issued a brief stating that, “the admission and enrollment of underrepresented minority students have fallen precipitously in many of U-M’s schools and college since” the end of race being a consideration in college admissions.

California voters in 1996 also dropped affirmative action in its state colleges and universities and became the “laboratory for experimentation” in regard to the effects on diversity. According to a brief submitted by UC President Michael v. Drake, “UC has implemented numerous and wide ranging race-neutral measures designed to increase diversity of all sorts, including racial diversity.” Similarly to Michigan, the brief states that, “despite its extensive efforts, UC struggles to enroll a student body that is sufficiently racially diverse to attain the educational benefits of diversity.” The examples of California and Michigan proves the fallout that will come if the Supreme Court decides to ban affirmative action across the nation.

Many common misconceptions exist about affirmative action, such as that it takes away opportunities from White students or that marginalized people who receive admission to schools with the policy in place do not deserve it. This simply isn’t the case. Students’ applications are looked at based on how they excelled with the opportunities they were given. Privileged people need to look past the idea that they are “more deserving.” Affirmative action creates opportunities for those who have been disadvantaged by a system that favors people of a certain race and economic status. If the Supreme Court decides to get rid of it, the United States as a country will go backwards, and marginalized groups will remain all the more left behind due to an education gap.