Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina Admissions Case

Date Filed: 07/25/2022

Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. University of North Carolina (UNC)

Protecting Race-Conscious, Holistic Admissions Processes

On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. University of North Carolina (UNC) and found that Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s affirmative action programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This devastating decision overrules 45 years of precedent established in prior Supreme Court decisions, including Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Grutter v. Bollinger, and Fisher v. University of Texas. However, the Court’s ruling still allows colleges to consider how race has affected a student’s life and their ability to contribute to the educational institution. 

In July 2022, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of the United States in Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. University of North Carolina (UNC) on behalf of LDF and the NAACP in support of UNC’s race-conscious admissions process. UNC is one of the country’s oldest taxpayer-funded, public universities and, until the mid-20th century, had a policy of denying admission to Black applicants and other people of color because of their race. UNC’s race-conscious admissions policy is especially necessary because, in the state’s primary and secondary schools, qualified Black students are systemically denied fair opportunity to amass the traditional credentials that universities prioritize, such as high grade point averages and standardized test scores, that would give them a competitive advantage in UNC’s admissions process.

In October 2021, the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina upheld UNC’s holistic, race-conscious admissions policy, relying on over 40 years of Supreme Court precedent reinforcing the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions. LDF and the NAACP ask the Supreme Court to affirm that decision.

“Race-conscious admissions policies at the University of North Carolina and other selective colleges and universities are not only constitutional, but necessary and integral to fully realizing the Supreme Court’s promise of equality in its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.”

- Janai Nelson

In its campaign to undo longstanding precedent allowing the limited consideration of race in admissions to higher education, SFFA attempts to re-write one of the most important Supreme Court cases in our nation’s history, Brown v. Board of Education. Abandonment of the Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court as recently as 2016 in Fisher v. University of Texas, as requested by SFFA, would force colleges and universities to ignore race and the unfair advantages and disadvantages stemming from ongoing educational inequalities when attempting to assemble a student body that will foster the educational benefits of diversity.

When LDF successfully litigated Brown 68 years ago, the plaintiffs and their lawyers, including LDF founder and eventual Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, were not fighting for, nor did the Supreme Court envision, SFFA’s version of a “colorblind” Fourteenth Amendment that ignores the persistent reality of racial inequalities. LDF and the original Brown plaintiffs sought to uproot the subordination of Black people and secure equal citizenship for Black Americans by ending this country’s racial caste system. That is the vision that the Supreme Court affirmed in Brown and that LDF and the NAACP assert it is dutybound to honor.

Read the full amicus brief here.