The Supreme Court announced Monday it would take up a pair of cases related to race-based admissions policies at two major universities, adding affirmative action to the hot-button issues justices are considering, along with abortion and gun rights.
Justices said they would hear challenges to policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina that factor students' race, among several other criteria, to decide who should be granted admission to the universities. The challenges were brought by the conservative nonprofit group Students for Fair Admissions.
Race-based affirmative action has been a common practice to help boost admission chances for disadvantaged racial minorities since the 1960s. In the case against Harvard, petitioners argue the same practices have disproportionately harmed Asian American applicants. The University of North Carolina is one of the nation's leading public universities.
Although Harvard is a private institution, SSFA has challenged the school because it receives federal funding and has accused the school's policies of violating civil rights law by discriminating on the basis of race.
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After an appeals court ruled in favor of the school in November 2020, Harvard issued a statement saying its "admissions policies are consistent with Supreme Court precedent, and lawfully and appropriately pursue Harvard’s efforts to create a diverse campus that promotes learning and encourages mutual respect and understanding in our community."
Officials at both schools have denied their processes discriminate, and lower courts have rejected challenges to the affirmative action policies, citing decades of high court rulings affirming the use of race in college admissions.
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Last month, President Joe Biden's administration urged the Supreme Court to reject the challenge to Harvard's affirmative action policy.
The case will likely be heard during the session beginning in October, with a decision by June 2023.