[JURIST] Lawsuits were filed in Massachusetts [complaint, PDF] and North Carolina [complaint, PDF] federal district courts against Harvard University [official website] and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill [official website] on Monday, arguing [press release] that affirmative action policies should be banned at colleges across the country. The lawsuits contend that the US Supreme Court’s [official website] affirmative action efforts, beginning in the landmark Regents of the University of California v. Bakke [opinion], have failed to end racial biases in the admissions process, and contend that Bakke should be overruled. However, since both lawsuits were filed in federal district courts, the courts do not have the power to overturn a Supreme Court decision. The lawsuits instead call for an outright prohibition of racial preferences in university admissions. The suit against UNC Chapel Hill argues that the court-granted leeway to use racial preferences in college admissions allows colleges to engage in racial stereotyping and other forms of discrimination to advance their social-engineering agenda. Both suits were filed by Edward Blum, the president of the Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. [official website], a non-profit advocacy group created to represent students who fail to gain admission to major colleges and believe that their race was the reason. Both complaints argue that white, African-American and Hispanic applicants are given racial preferences over better qualified Asian-Americans applying for admission. The lawsuits do not ask colleges to abandon the idea of racial diversity in the higher education system. Instead, the lawsuits contend that diversity can be reached by race-neutral alternatives. Both universities stand by their admission policies.
The intersection between state legislatures, the federal constitution and the admission policies of public universities has created significant legal conflict surrounding affirmative action programs [JURIST backgrounder] in the US in recent years. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Wednesday denied [JURIST report] Abigail Fisher’s petition for a rehearing en banc in the affirmative action case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin [SCOTUSblog backgrounder]. The judges for the Fifth Circuit voted 10-5 to deny the petition. The case is on remand from a June 2013 decision by the Supreme Court, which held the Fifth Circuit did not apply a strict enough standard in upholding a ruling for the university’s race-conscious admissions policy. In 2011 the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] the policy did not violate Fisher’s rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and federal civil rights statutes, affirming a lower court decision which granted summary judgment to the university.