Defending Diversity. Affirming Opportunity.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law represents a diverse group from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as Harvard University students and alumni, in the fight to defend the universities’ right to consider race as one of many factors in the admissions process. SFFA v. UNC Chapel-Hill and SFFA v. Harvard challenge the race-conscious admissions policies of these universities. David Hinojosa (Director of the Educational Opportunities Project for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law) argued before the Court on October 31, 2022, to ensure that the lived experiences of students of color are heard loud and clear. As the fate of affirmative action hangs in the balance, stay updated on the fight for education equity.
Two lawsuits filed by a group misleadingly named Students for Fair Admissions (“SFFA”) are challenging the right of universities to consider race as one of many factors in the admissions process. SFFA v. UNC Chapel-Hill and SFFA v. Harvard were both filed in 2014, and seek to eradicate over 40 years of established legal precedent allowing colleges to consider the race of highly-qualified applicants in admissions to promote the benefits of diverse learning environments.
UNC and Harvard both use holistic admissions processes that review letters of recommendation, guidance counselor reviews, alumni interviewer impressions, essays, and experiences, alongside academic performance. Every federal court to hear these challenges thus far has rejected the claims, consistent with longstanding legal precedent. But both cases are now being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Lawyers’ Committee is the only civil rights organization that has been litigating both cases since their inception, dating back nearly a decade. Our attorneys have worked closely with a diverse coalition of students of color, lifting up their voices and experiences in the courts of law and public opinion. A number of Lawyers’ Committee student clients were able to testify in the trial court in both cases. In the UNC Chapel Hill case, we secured a special status for our student clients as “intervenors,” meaning they had the opportunity to fully develop the facts and arguments at trial. In both cases, the trial judges credited our clients’ testimony as compelling and persuasive in ruling in favor of upholding the race-conscious admissions policies.
As the cases go up to the Supreme Court, the Lawyers’ Committee once again stands ready to represent our student and alumni clients. The Supreme Court granted a motion filed by the Lawyers’ Committee to argue before the nine Justices.
Click below to find a timeline of each case:
What’s at Stake
Race-conscious college admission policies, also known as Affirmative Action, work to ensure that highly-qualified people from all walks of life have a fair shot in a system that too often stacks the deck against people of color.
Affirmative Action is supported by more than 40 years of Supreme Court precedent. Justices appointed by presidents of both parties have repeatedly and consistently ruled that affirmative action is constitutional and necessary.
Considering race as one factor among many others helps account for historical unequal treatment and better captures the complete identity of a student’s background, qualifications, and capacity to contribute to campus and society at large.
Race-conscious policies have opened up many doors for highly talented students of color who, unfortunately, may otherwise be overlooked for admission.
- Colleges and universities, that have eliminated the lawful consideration of race as one of many factors in admissions, such as University of California system schools, have seen immediate, sharp declines in racial diversity, which harms the educational experience of all students.
- Eliminating the consideration of race in Harvard’s process would cause the number of Black, Latinx, Native American, Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students to plummet by 50% – or by nearly 1,000 students over 4 years.
- Evidence presented during the SFFA v. UNC trial made it clear that without race-conscious admissions, there would be a substantial decline in the presence of underrepresented students on campus.
Even though affirmative action is important for higher education institutions, the impact reaches far beyond the classrooms. Diverse learning environments lead to more diverse workforces, and better prepare all students for success in the multiracial society we live in.
In cases regarding race-conscious admissions, context is key. The history and legacy of the university and the ongoing dynamics on campus all play a role in carefully crafting an admissions policy that advances the institutional mission. No one is better equipped to tell this story than students and alumni.
One of the most important aspects of the cases pending in the Supreme Court has been our work to lift up student voices and experiences. Indeed, the testimony of our incredible clients has always been the heart of these cases.
In SFFA v. UNC, the federal district court handed down a strong opinion upholding UNC’s race-conscious admissions policy and affirming the necessity of policies that promote diversity and recognize the tremendous talents of students of all backgrounds. The decision grounded its findings in the student experience—including testimony by Lawyers’ Committee clients—and carefully considered the distinct context of UNC and North Carolina, including UNC’s history of discrimination and current racial dynamics across the state and campus. Similarly, in SFFA v. Harvard the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit relied heavily on student testimony and cites them extensively in their opinions.
Hear our student and alumni clients in their own voices.
In the News
5 Key Moments From Supreme Court Hearings On Affirmative Action
On Monday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Students for Fair Admissions’ cases against Harvard and University of North Carolina…
Supreme Court justices question race-conscious college admissions
The future of affirmative action in higher education is on the table as the Supreme Court wades into the admissions programs at the nation’s oldest public and private universities.
US students on why affirmative action is crucial: ‘They need our voices’
Harvard and UNC attendees address how applicants’ backgrounds shape their lives as supreme court hears case
Veterans, First Time Advocate Arguing Fate of Affirmative Action
The six advocates arguing at the Supreme Court over the future of affirmative action in college admissions include high court veterans…
USA Today: Supreme Court affirmative action cases spark heated debate over meaning of Brown v. Board
The landmark 1954 decision held that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Does it also stand for the principle that the Constitution requires colorblindness?
Washington Post Opinion: Does campus diversity justify affirmative action? Our study says yes.
This month, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two cases that pose the starkest threats ever to affirmative action in higher education. Central to those cases…
Washington Post: As Supreme Court test looms, UNC defends use of race in admissions
Founded to educate the enslaving elite of this Southern state, allied for generations with the cause of white supremacy, roiled by racial tensions in recent years over the fate of a Confederate…
Bay State Banner: Supreme court could strike down affirmative action
On October 31, the Supreme Court will hear two cases that will determine the future of affirmative action. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) is suing Harvard and University of North Carolina (UNC)