Supreme Court to Hear Case That Could End Affirmative Action for College Admissions

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear a case challenging the consideration of race as a factor when deciding which students should be admitted into colleges, putting the use of affirmative action in higher education at risk.

The court said it would be hearing lawsuits claiming that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina (UNC) discriminated against Asian-Americans in college applications when using their affirmative action policies, which allow race to be considered as a criteria for admissions, according to Forbes.

Race-based affirmative action has helped boost racial diversity in American colleges and universities for the past 40 years. However, challengers claim the policies have hurt other races in the process for college admission, CNN reported.

The case against Harvard University started in 2014 when the group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) filed a suit against the school. The suit claims Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants in its admission process by using race as a factor in their decisions. According to the suit, Harvard's admission process used "racial hierarchy" when favoring other applicants of color over Asian-Americans, Forbes reported.

"Harvard's mistreatment of Asian-American applicants is appalling," the challengers wrote in the filing according to CNN.

SFFA also sued UNC, to cover private and public institutions, alleging the school's affirmative action policy violates the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause because it doesn't guarantee racial neutrality, Forbes reported.

Lower courts upheld Harvard's and UNC's admissions policies, citing decades of court rulings allowing race to be considered in the application process that has allowed colleges to promote diversity in higher education.

According to CNN, the case against Harvard was designed to reach SCOTUS because it was filed under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which does not allow schools that discriminate based on race to receive federal funds.

SCOTUS has previously held up affirmative action in cases, but with the court's 6-3 conservative majority, there are concerns the ruling may be overturned. Forbes reported Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas have previously ruled against affirmative action.

The SFFA requested the justices overturn the court's previous decision on affirmative action after upholding the University of Michigan's use of race as an admissions factor in 2003, NBC News reported.

If SCOTUS overturns the 2003 ruling, affirmative action programs and racial diversity across the country for public and private universities could be put in jeopardy, according to NBC News.

Forbes reported that Harvard and UNC have denied the accusations that their affirmative action programs are discriminatory against other students. UNC said the admission process "considers race flexibly as merely one factor among numerous factors."

Harvard said if it were no longer allowed to consider race when admitting students to the school, it would see a "steep decline" in diversity, Forbes reported.

Update 01/24/22, 12:13 p.m. ET: This article was updated with additional background information.

Supreme Court Case College Admissions
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case regarding race-based affirmative action admissions at colleges and universities. Patrick Semansky/AP Photo