Affirming or denying: Supreme Court’s affirmative action cases

by Anika Bastin (’23) | November 18, 2022

Art by Ms. Sherrard (’10)

The Supreme Court has become an increasingly controversial body in the last couple of years. The current Court demonstrated its boldness in its recent case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that upended the nearly fifty-year-old precedent of the landmark Roe v. Wade. The next major issue that has made its way onto the docket is affirmative action, a set of admissions policies focused on increasing the presence of underrepresented groups in colleges.

The Court traditionally serves as a slightly less partisan check on the other branches of the government, focused solely on judging legality and constitutionality. However, the current Supreme Court has solidified into a more partisan group, composed of a 6-3 conservative-leaning supermajority with three of the justices appointed by former President Donald Trump. As a result, the Court currently makes decisions in a manner far more aligned to the typical Republican ideology, with their decisions falling to the ideological right of about three-quarters of the American populace.

The most recent cases on the matter of affirmative action, SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. University of North Carolina, were both brought by the group Students for Fair Admissions, an organization that is based on the idea that students have been rejected from college on the basis of their race. The group, headed by Edward Blum, brought similar notable cases before, such as Fisher v. University of Texas. However, such attempts failed with past Supreme Courts.

The current Supreme Court, however, could very well reverse the current precedent. All six members of the conservative supermajority have signaled skepticism in the past regarding the issue of allowing race to play a role in college admissions. Indeed, three of the current justices dissented in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas.

The ruling will inevitably prompt the creation of a large gray area in admissions, sparking questions such as the validity of essays that discuss one’s experiences based on their race. Indeed, such points were raised by the Justices during the oral arguments. While SFFA’s lawyer stated that such essays could be considered as they were based on experiences, it only further proves how blurry such a process could become for counselors and students.

Additionally, the American populace tends to favor affirmative action programs. Thus, a reversal of the precedents could prove damaging to the general public’s trust in the Supreme Court. The increasingly polarized decision-making of the current Court, clear with the overturning of Roe, already proves troubling. Approval for the Supreme Court has hit record lows, with less than half of the American populace expressing trust in the Courts. 

High-profile cases like SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC will inevitably fan flames of doubt regarding whether or not the Supreme Court is in step with the American people. What the backlash of an even further decrease in trust in this key institution would entail remains to be seen.

Categories: Opinions

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