Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina; Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College

Elite universities sued over race-based discrimination against Asian applicants

Cases > Equality Under the Law > Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina; Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College
Case Status: Active: Litigation is ongoing

Students for Fair Admissions (SFA) sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina for discriminating against Asian-American and white students seeking admission by requiring higher grades and test scores for Asian-American and white applicants than other racial groups. These policies of racial preferences violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Litigation is ongoing in the trial court as SFA  pursues discovery to unmask the secretive admissions processes.

Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill consider an applicant’s race and ethnicity when determining whether to admit student applicants. They grant preferential treatment to applicants from some racial groups, while restricting admission to others. Specifically, Asian-American and white applicants are required to have significantly higher grade point averages and SAT scores to gain admission that applicants who identify as Hispanic, African-American or Native American. For example, Asian-American students admitted to UNC-Chapel Hill in 2012 had SAT scores 200 points higher than admitted African-American applicants. Meanwhile, Harvard denied admission to an SFA member who graduated first in his class of 460 at a high school ranked in the top 5% of all schools nationwide, achieved a perfect score on three sets of standardized tests, and participated in a variety of extracurricular activities.

The universities defend their policies as necessary to attain the educational benefits of “diversity,” a recognized defense announced by the Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. As amicus curiae, PLF plans to help frame the issues in such a way as to help these cases move to the Supreme Court in a position for that court to overrule Grutter and hold that diversity is not a sufficiently compelling interest to justify discrimination against individuals on the basis of race.

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What’s at stake?

  • Racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary, and unconstitutional. A student’s race and ethnicity should not be factors that either harm or help that student to gain admission to a competitive university.
  • Harvard and UNC are not regarded as elite schools because they are inclusive, but because they are exclusive. They use a highly competitive admissions process that admits a limited number of applicants. In such a system, race cannot be a “plus factor” for some without being a “minus factor” for others.

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