Supreme Court considers Harvard and University of North Carolina’s use of affirmative action. Here’s what you need to know.
A group of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill undergraduates holds signs during a rally opposing the college’s use of race in admissions and admissions-related matters, Thursday, June 27, 2011 in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Stephen B. 457)
On a recent weeknight, about two dozen members of the Duke University lacrosse team assembled in the cafeteria in Durham, where the group has been staying during their time out of school. They were there to attend a forum about affirmative action.
They were there to learn about it.
The Duke lacrosse team in the cafeteria at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Stephen B. Holmes)
On April 18, the Supreme Court of the United States will consider two cases, one involving four University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill students and one involving the nation’s most prestigious college, Harvard University. Both provide important lessons about the impact of affirmative action on American society and on students of color, as well as about the nature of justice in the United States.
In one of the cases, Brown v. Board of Education, the Court held that separate but equal public schools are unconstitutional and in 1954 the civil rights organization the Congress of Racial Equality helped force the ruling on its way. Today, it is called Brown. It’s the court’s only finding involving segregation on its own campus. The other case is Fisher v. University of Texas. The Supreme Court in that case upheld the use of affirmative action while ruling that the Equal Opportunity in Higher Education Act of 1965, which required states to use affirmative action, did not violate the U.S. Constitution. However, that decision did not end affirmative action across the country. Instead, it left the door open for further use of affirmative action for institutions that want to make it work.
The case of the four North Carolina students brings to the Supreme Court the question of whether their case stands up to scrutiny because it involves use of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s own affirmative action policy, which uses race to determine admission into its historically black university. The plaintiff-students—Michael and Alex O. and Anthony and Jamel H.—are African American. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s president, Elizabeth K. Harris,