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Affirmative Action

Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard Coll. (Harvard Corp.) (1st Cir. Nov. 12, 2020)

In a great win for higher education, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that Harvard’s admissions process, which considers race as one factor among many when reviewing applicants, satisfies strict scrutiny by being narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling interest of diversity in its student body. The appellate decision arose from plaintiffs’ appeal of a district court judge’s decision that held that Harvard’s admissions policies do not discriminate against Asian American applicants.  The AAUP, together with forty other higher education associations, signed on to an amicus brief, ADD LINK prepared by the American Council on Education in support of the district court’s decision. The First Circuit upheld the district court and found that Harvard’s race-conscious admissions program survives strict scrutiny and does not violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Harvard identified the specific, compelling goals that it achieves from diversity. The First Circuit also held, giving no deference to Harvard, that its admissions program is narrowly tailored and that it legitimately concluded that the alternatives were not workable.

Fisher v. Univ. of Tex., 136 S. Ct. 2198 (2016)

The US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action program in Fisher II, in which the AAUP joined an amicus brief. The brief argued that consideration of race in the admissions process is appropriate and advanced the AAUP’s longstanding view that diversity is essential not only for students but for the entire academic enterprise. In its second consideration of Fisher’s challenge to UT’s program, the Court confirmed that universities must prove that race is considered only as necessary to meet the permissible goals of affirmative action. In particular, the university must prove that “race-neutral alternatives” will not suffice to meet these goals. In Fisher II, the Court held that since UT had sufficient evidence that its “Top Ten” admissions policy based on class rank was not adequate, by itself, to meet its diversity goals, it could permissibly consider a student’s race as one factor in a broader assessment of qualifications. This opinion now enables universities to adopt affirmative action programs that meet constitutional requirements.    

Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, 134 S. Ct. 1623 (2014)

In this case the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that had found unconstitutional provisions of an amendment to the Michigan Constitution banning affirmative action affecting Michigan's public higher education institutions.  The Court noted that the question was ". . . not the permissibility of race-conscious admissions policies under the Constitution but whether, and in what manner, voters in the States may choose to prohibit the consideration of racial preferences in governmental decisions, in particular with respect to school admissions." The Court held that because there was no specific injury, voters had the right to determine whether race-based preferences should be permitted by state entities and therefore the amendment banning affirmative action was constitutional. The Court made clear, however, that this ruling does not change the principle outlined in Fisher v. University of Texas that, "the consideration of race in admissions is permissible, provided that certain conditions are met."

Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Bd. Of Education, 551 U.S. 701 (2007)

These two cases, being decided jointly, address the issue of whether local school districts can make decisions based on race as a method of ensuring racial diversity, and avoiding segregation, in public schools.

Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education, 544 U.S. 167 (2005)

Roderick Jackson, a high school basketball coach sued the board of education alleging that it retaliated against him in violation of Title IX, after he complained about sex discrimination in the high school's athletic program.   The issue before the Court is whether Title IX of the Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination in federally assisted education programs and activities, provides for a retaliation cause of action.

Smith v. University of Washington Law School, 392 F.3d 367 (9th Cir. 2004)

A white female student sued the University of Washington, claiming she was denied entry to the University of Washington Law School while less qualified minority applicants were admitted over her.

Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003) and; Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003)

In these  two seminal cases, white students brought class-action challenges to affirmative action policies and practices in the admissions processes of the undergraduate and law schools of the University of Michigan.

Johnson v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, 106 F. Supp. 2d 1362 (S.D. Ga. 2000)

Three rejected white female applicants for admission to the University of Georgia sued the state seeking admission and damages based on violations of the Civil Rights Act.