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June 23
1946, 11:20pm: William S. Hart, 81, dies at L.A.'s California Lutheran Hospital, leaving his Newhall estate and his (now West) Hollywood home to the public [story]
Hart dies


Rather than overrule their longstanding precedent, the court set a higher bar for the use of race in college admissions.
| Thursday, Jun 29, 2023
SCOTUS

(Courthouse News photo/Jack Rodgers)

By Kelsey Reichmann 

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court shot down affirmative action policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina on Thursday, tightening restrictions on the use of race in college admissions.

“University programs must comply with strict scrutiny, they may never use race as a stereotype or negative, and — at some point — they must end,” Chief Justice John Robert wrote for the 6-3 majority. “Respondents’ admissions systems — however well intentioned and implemented in good faith — fail each of these criteria. They must therefore be invalidated under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Neither school’s programs comport with equal protection guarantees, the court found.

“Both programs 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,” Roberts wrote. “We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, saying the ruling rolled back decades of progress. The Obama appointee read her dissent from the bench, marking the first occurrence of the practice since June 2019.

“The Court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society,” Sotomayor wrote, joined in full by Justice Elena Kagan and by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in part.

Having been on Harvard’s board of overseers, Jackson recused herself from that school’s case and joined the decision only “as it applies” to the UNC case, according to a footnote.

A group called Students for Fair Admissions and conservative activist Edward Blum brought the underlying challenge, arguing that affirmative action policies at Harvard and UNC do more harm than good. They accused the schools of violating the Constitution and the Civil Rights Act.

Brown v. Board of Education famously struck down school segregation as unconstitutional, but bringing diversity to education was not as simple as the Warren court would have hoped. A little over a decade after Brown in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, the court would mandate schools create plans to end segregation in schools. Even then, diversifying schools was a challenge, forcing universities to take extra actions to integrate.

The court entered the fight over race in education again in the 1978 case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, this time authorizing the use of race in admissions policies. It would be another two decades before the court directly ruled on affirmative action policies in Grutter v. Bollinger — the precedent at issue in this case.

Students for Fair Admissions alleges that if Brown exists, then Grutter can not.

“Racial classifications are wrong,” Patrick Strawbridge, an attorney from Consovoy McCarthy representing the group, said during oral arguments. “That principle was enshrined in our law at great cost following the Civil War. A century of resistance to race neutrality followed, but this Court’s landmark decision in Brown finally and firmly rejected the view that racial classifications have any role to play in providing educational opportunities.”

This is not Grutter’s first trip to the Supreme Court chopping block. After examining the use of race in admissions at the University of Texas in 2012 and again 2015, the court found those policies constitutional in both cases.

The dueling lawsuits filed against Harvard and UNC in 2014 allege the universities’ policies discriminate against white and Asian American students. Four years after the suit was filed, Harvard came out on top. UNC also prevailed in its suit.

Since the lower court found Harvard and UNC’s use of affirmative action policies did not violate the court’s precedents, Students for Fair Admissions targeted the rulings themselves. The group argued that Harvard and UNC’s policies violated the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

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