SFFA loses UNC case appealing Harvard ruling
In / A decision rendered October 18Judge Loretta C. Biggs, of the United States District Court for the Central District of North Carolina, dismissed the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) lawsuit against the University of North Carolina (UNC) – the Edward Blum’s latest effort, who opposes the consideration of race in admission decisions, to overturn the law governing permissible affirmative action policies and procedures. In October 2019, United States District Court Judge Alison Burroughs ruled in favor of Harvard in Blum’s SFFA lawsuit against holistic college admissions exams, which can take into consideration the race of the candidates. In November 2020, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this decision. And the SFFA has now asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the case. With the UNC ruling – the case was adjudicated last November – Blum’s arguments were deemed insufficient, in fact and in law, as they relate to both a private university, like Harvard, and a public university .
Biggs didn’t mince words in his decision:
The UNC has fulfilled its obligation to clearly demonstrate that its undergraduate admissions program withstands rigorous scrutiny and is therefore constitutionally admissible. In sum, the University has demonstrated that: (1) it has a compelling and substantial interest in pursuing and achieving the educational benefits of diversity and has offered a reasoned decision to do so, entitling its decision to judicial deference ; (2) to realize its interest, it is necessary for the University to admit and enroll a diverse student body to include racial diversity; (3) The University engages in a highly individualized and holistic admissions program which is tightly tailored in that it views race flexibly only as a “positive factor” among many factors for each applicant and race is not a defining characteristic in any of its admissions decisions; and (4) the University has conducted and continues to conduct a serious good faith review of race neutral strategies and has found no alternative that would further its compelling interest in as good and at tolerable administrative expense as its program current admission.
Putting the legalisms of the procedure into simpler English, she continued:
Ensuring that our public higher education institutions are open and accessible to all segments of our population is not a gift to be given sparingly to selected populations, but rather an institutional obligation to be administered in a broad and equitable manner. Although no student can or should be admitted to this or any other university on the sole basis of race, because race is so interwoven in all aspects of the lived experience of minority students, for ignoring it, reducing its importance and measuring it only by model statistics as SFFA has done, lacks an important context to include the obscuring of racial barriers and obstacles that have been encountered, overcome and yet to be overcome. As the Court in grated explained, due to our nation’s struggle against racial inequality, these minority students, as in this case, are both likely to have experiences of particular significance to an institution’s mission and less likely to be admitted in significant numbers on criteria that ignore these experiences. As one of the UNC experts explained, “The work associated with diversity and inclusion is complicated and challenging and is an ongoing iterative process”. While the University’s current admissions program has captured the context described in grated, UNC continues to have a lot of work to do.
The Chronicle of Higher Education interpreted the ruling as “a clear victory” for the UNC, noting not only the substance of the ruling, but Biggs’ cautious reliance on Supreme Court jurisprudence, as asserted in Grutter vs. Bollinger—Involving the University of Michigan, decided in 2003. This decision, and those of other affirmative action cases in admissions, builds on the 1978 Supreme Court decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which helped define the permissible consideration of race as an admission factor, based on policies and procedures established by Harvard. The the Chronicle also noted the sections of the new notice that indicate the prosecution under-representation highly qualified minority students among those currently admitted, despite The consideration by the UNC of race among the factors of its holistic examination of candidates, and the predominance of discriminatory practices and behaviors with regard to race, past and present. (Inside higher education Quoted Blum as saying of the ruling, “Students for Fair Admissions are disappointed the court upheld UNC’s discriminatory admissions policies. We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis and SFFA depositions presented at trial convincingly revealed the UNC’s systematic discrimination against non-minority applicants. “)
Now Harvard and UNC can claim to have the facts and the law on their side. But Blum’s appeal of the Harvard case to the Supreme Court, and his planned appeal of the UNC decision, underscore the underlying reality. He hopes to win a hearing in the country’s highest court, which has been replenished by recent appointments, perhaps rendering a majority of judges inclined to a different worldview from that prevailing in Bakke and grated.
If Blum succeeds in getting his appeal of an SFFA case heard, the facts may stand, but the law under which Harvard, UNC and other institutions currently conduct admissions, including consideration of race, may fail. not be – and the rules governing higher education admissions, largely intact for over four decades, could change dramatically.