The high court’s decision to end race-conscious admissions practices at Harvard University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill gives way to a number of legal targets and admissions hurdles that institutions will have to navigate as they aim to diversify campuses. Here are three:
Legal battles over admissions might not be over
Blum, the head of Students for Fair Admissions which successfully sued Harvard and UNC, says he’s ready to challenge any school that may try to skirt the law.
He threatened to “initiate litigation should universities defiantly flout this clear ruling and the dictates of Title VI and the Equal Protection Clause.”
“The administrators of higher education must note: The law will not tolerate direct proxies for racial classifications,” Blum said in a statement. “For those in leadership positions at public and private universities, you have a legal obligation to follow the letter and the spirit of the law.”
While Harvard and UNC expressed their disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision, they recommitted to ensuring students with different backgrounds, perspectives and lived experiences are admitted to their campuses. Both institutions said they will be reviewing the high court’s opinion to ensure their admissions policies comply with the law.
“For almost a decade, Harvard has vigorously defended an admissions system that, as two federal courts ruled, fully complied with longstanding precedent,” outgoing President Lawrence Bacow said in a statement. “In the weeks and months ahead, drawing on the talent and expertise of our Harvard community, we will determine how to preserve, consistent with the Court’s new precedent, our essential values.”
The chancellor of UNC shared a similar message on Thursday. “Carolina is committed to bringing together talented students with different perspectives and life experiences and to making an affordable, high-quality education accessible to the people of North Carolina and beyond,” Kevin M. Guskiewicz said in a statement.
Legacy admissions and standardized tests under scrutiny
Bobby Scott, a graduate of Harvard, called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate colleges that use “racially biased admissions tests, and developmental and legacy admissions.” He said lawmakers must review other college admissions requirements that could be racially discriminatory or have disparate impact on underrepresented students.
“Race-conscious admissions policies provided a counterbalance to these discriminatory factors — such as inequitable K-12 schools, racially biased admissions tests, and developmental and legacy admissions — that all marginalize students of color,” Scott said in a statement. “Now that the Court has invalidated that balance, I call on the Attorney General to start filing cases now against any current school practices that violate the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act because they have discriminatory impact.”
This isn’t the first time Scott has scrutinized legacy admissions, which gives admissions advantages to children of alumni, or standardized tests that have long been part of college applications. Scott has said a key problem with the oral arguments in the affirmative action cases was that the justices didn’t consider how the use of these requirements would affect underrepresented students.
Blum, an unlikely ally, also urged elite universities to end policies that give preference to legacy admits.
“For decades, our nation’s most elite universities have given preferences to the children of alumni, faculty and staff, athletes, and notably, substantial donors,” Blum said in a statement. “The elimination of these preferences is long overdue and SFFA hopes that these opinions will compel higher education institutions to end these practices.”
Blum stopped short of saying he intends to pursue a lawsuit on these factors. At a press conference, in response to a POLITICO question, Blum said that “legacy preferences are not actionable in court,” adding that he won’t be challenging standardized tests either.
Race-neutral admissions policies at high schools could be next
The future of race-neutral admissions policies at competitive public schools could also be decided by the Supreme Court as a case involving a highly selective Virginia magnet high school makes its way through the courts.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision in May, ruled that the Fairfax County School Board’s admissions policy for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology did not disparately impact Asian American applicants. It reversed a lower court ruling that had found in favor of the parents suing over the policy that revised the school’s rigorous admissions process to improve the potential for underrepresented students to attend.
Asra Nomani, the co-founder of Coalition for TJ, which was founded by parents to fight the school’s new policy, said their case is the next step in eliminating racial preferences in admissions and found the Supreme Court’s ruling to be encouraging for their cause.
“It is such an important message to the country that racism is not acceptable, and we can’t use Asian Americans as a scapegoat,” Nomani said. “Race-neutral admissions is just another word for racism. … That’s the next frontier for legal challenges.”
Nomani said the group is expecting to file its appeal in August and hopes to get to their case in front of the Supreme Court.
Kierra Frazier contributed to this report.