Already considering toppling the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision, the justices are now taking aim at another set of storied precedents: the rulings that let admissions offices use race to ensure a diverse campus.
And that’s just the start. The current term, which runs through June, is likely to feature rulings
“They really are in this sort of moment where they can do whatever they like,” said Melissa Murray, a constitutional law professor at New York University. The decision to hear the admissions case suggests that “they’re just checking things off their list and affirmative action will be next.”
Driving the change are the three
All three signaled in
As is customary, the court didn’t say which justices voted to take up the affirmative action appeals, which challenge race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina.
But given that only four justices are needed to grant review, it would have take only two of the Trump trio to join fellow conservatives
The appeals, pressed by an interest group formed to challenge racial preferences, ask the court to overturn the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision, which reaffirmed that universities can use race in admissions to ensure campus diversity. The court is expected to hear the case in the nine-month term that starts in October.
Conservatives say they are cautiously optimistic about the court’s trajectory after decades of frustration with Republican appointees who proved to be moderates or even liberals once on the court. That group includes Justice
“Looking at it from a conservative point of view, there’s a lot of promise there with regard to abortion and affirmative action, and maybe even the Second Amendment, maybe voting rights,” said
The presence of the Trump appointees has left Chief Justice
“He perhaps more than any member of the conservative bloc has been concerned about the courts institutional perception, like what the public thinks about the court,” Murray said. “I imagine he can’t be super-excited about just this barrage of hot-button issues popping up on the court’s docket in such a short period of time.”
The decision to take the affirmative action cases sparked concern among supporters that the result will be a sharp decline in the number of Black, Hispanic and Native American students at the nation’s most prestigious universities. Affirmative action is common at selective colleges, though nine states including California and Florida ban race-conscious admissions at public institutions.
“The court’s move today creates a disturbing specter of a decision that could completely deny the importance of racial diversity on college campuses,” said
Columbia University President
Bollinger, formerly the president of the University of Michigan, was deeply involved in the defending that university’s law school policy that was at issue in the 2003 Supreme Court case.
But Edward Blum, president of the interest group challenging the Harvard and North Carolina policies, says the country can’t fix past discrimination with new forms of discrimination.
“The cornerstone of our nation’s civil rights laws is the principle that an individual’s race should not be used to help or harm them in their life’s endeavors,” said Blum, who runs the group Students for Fair Admissions. “We hope the Supreme Court will use these cases to begin the restoration of the colorblind legal covenant that holds together Americans of all races and ethnicities.”
(Updates with reaction on admissions case starting in 15th paragraph.)
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