Following its recent agreement to hear testimony in a case that could abolish abortion rights protected in the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take on another case that could undo decades of legal precedent. The topic under fire in this latest case? Affirmative action in college and university admissions.
NPR’s Nina Totenberg and Eric Singerman reported that on Jan. 24, the Supreme Court said, “it will revisit the question of affirmative action in higher education, deciding to hear cases challenging the use of race as one factor in admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.”
Totenberg and Singerman said the Supreme Court will look into the details of how the schools conduct their affirmative action programs while also reexamining “43 years of precedent by asking whether race can ever play a role in admissions.”
The cases against Harvard and UNC’s admission policies were initially filed in 2014 by a conservative activist group known as Students for Fair Admissions. Edward Blum, leader of the group, originally began his suits against the schools without any students even claiming they had been discriminated against. His goal was purely an attempt to strike down affirmative action. It’s a cause the former financial adviser and one-time failed congressional candidate has been fighting against for years. Blum selected the two schools as a test for the court to see how its view may differ on the policy’s use in a public school setting, where federal rules against discrimination apply, and a private school setting where they are applied differently.
Before deciding to work against affirmative action, Blum was the primary champion of attacks on the 1965 Voting Rights Act. His efforts in that case, which led to the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, gutted the law allowing the closure of hundreds of polling places and the enactment of new policies, making it harder for many members of minority communities to vote.
After his big win for that case, he has “been similarly undaunted in his attacks on affirmative action,” Totenberg and Singerman said.
“After the court rejected Blum’s challenge to the affirmative action policy at the University of Texas in 2016, he retooled his strategy, this time taking aim at Harvard and claiming that high-achieving Asian American students were being denied admission because of race,” the pair said.
While the court has upheld previous challenges dating as far back as 1978, it’s unknown how the now conservative-majority Supreme Court of 2022 will view the subject and whether they will continue to protect affirmative action.
Oral arguments in the two cases are set to begin in the fall.