College use of race in admissions challenged at Supreme Court in arguments

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  • The Supreme Court begins hearing arguments in two cases that challenge the use of race-based considerations to determine who gets into US colleges and universities.
  • The cases attack the affirmative action idea in admissions to Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
  • “Racial classifications are wrong,” attorney Patrick Strawbridge on behalf of the group Students for Fair Admissions.

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The Supreme Court on Monday began hearing arguments in two cases that challenge the use of race-based considerations to determine admission to US colleges.

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The argument, which is expected to continue for several hours, stems from lawsuits at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina against affirmative action in admissions.

“Racial classifications are wrong,” attorney Patrick Strawbridge said in his opening argument on behalf of the group Students for Fair Admissions.

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“This court has always said that racial classifications are unreasonable,” Strawbridge responded to Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative who asked defenders of affirmative action, who say that taking race into account is the key to getting into college. Tells something about “the whole person”.

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Students for Fair Admissions is seeking to overturn a Supreme Court decision in Gutter v. Bollinger, which found in 2003 that colleges may consider race in their admissions to diverse campuses.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the 14th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War, took race into account to help black Americans access the parts of society that were disenfranchised during slavery.

“You’re assuming that race is the only factor that drives someone in,” Sotomayor said, referring to admission to a liberal justice college.

Justice Elena Kagan returned to the 14th Amendment issue hours later when she asked U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Preloger explicitly what a so-called originalist would think of affirmative action to implement that amendment. Fundamentalists like Thomas say that their decisions are guided by what the Constitution originally meant, not by changing social customs.

“An originalist feels that this is clearly in line with the original understanding of the 14th Amendment,” Preller said.

But Strawbridge said Asian applicants have been harmed by affirmative action policies that benefited Black applications, a factor he argued underscored the unfairness and unconstitutionality of those policies.

“Some castes get benefits, some castes don’t,” he said.

Strawbridge said the use of race to determine who goes to college is “inherently divisive.”

Sotomayor challenged Strawbridge to come up with any instances in court records where an applicant entered college because of his race.

She and other liberal justices argued in their questions that race was but one of many factors influencing how colleges determine who gets admitted.

One of the judges, Ketanji Brown Jackson, said, “They’re looking at a person complete with all these characteristics.”

He questioned how applicants of a college were harmed by the use of affirmative action, which was redressable under the law.

Conservatives hold a 6-3 supremacy over the Supreme Court and are expected to be open to arguments to end affirmative action.

“I’ve heard the word diversity many times, and I don’t mean it,” said Thomas, who was only the second black person appointed to the Supreme Court after North Carolina Solicitor General Ryan Park began. His argument defending the UNC’s use of affirmative action.

“It seems like everything matters to everyone,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he “didn’t put much stock” in arguments for the benefits of diversity because he had heard similar arguments in favor of segregation.

The cases being argued are Students for Fair Admission v. President and Fellows of Harvard, Case No. 20-1199, and Students for Fair Admission v. University of North Carolina, Case No. 21-707.

This is breaking news. Check back for updates.

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