Affirmative Action Supreme Court Case

By Nika Bigelow and Ezra Lee

Recent admission cycles for the first-year class at Harvard College yielded 60,000+ applicants, competing for only ~2,000 coveted spots. When evaluating these tens of thousands of hopeful Harvard scholars, most of whom are academically qualified for acceptance into the university, the college needs to consider other factors, other than grades and test scores, to formulate a class. 

Right now, the United States Supreme Court is involved in the lawsuit Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. The SFFA alleges that Harvard Admission’s use of affirmative action “violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against Asian American applicants in favor of white applicants” (Oyez). Originally, SFFA sued both Harvard and the University of North Carolina for this reason, but the Supreme Court severed the cases. 

Affirmative action is a system of admissions designed to protect students who might otherwise be turned away on the sole basis of identity. This process permits factors such as race, gender, and national origin to be considered when hiring or admitting qualified applicants, keeping the doors of opportunity open. While this system has always been controversial, many more arguments both supporting and opposing affirmative action have been brought to light since this case began in 2014; we will discuss a few. 

So, what are the facts of the case? In a nutshell, the SFFA claims that Harvard imposes a soft racial quota, essentially admitting the same number of Asian American students each year even while the total number of applicants increases drastically. This discrepancy indicates that Asian American students face more obstacles when applying to Harvard, as a smaller percentage of that applicant pool is accepted. The plaintiffs—those who bring a case against a defendant in a court of law—also claimed that Asian Americans scored higher than applicants of any other racial or ethnic group on other admissions measures such as test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities, but the admissions officers’ perception of Asian American applicants’ personalities significantly dragged down their admissions chances. Furthermore, a Duke University economist concluded that Asian American applicants have the lowest chances of admission of all racial groups;  despite their strong test scores, Asian Americans have received overall lower personal ratings—one of the three ratings used to determine admission to the university–leading them to be denied acceptance. 

In response to these allegations, Harvard denied discriminating based on race and maintained that race is just one of many factors used in their holistic admissions process. The school also highlighted that faced with such a large number of highly-qualified applicants, admissions officers must consider more than just grades and test scores when making admissions decisions.

Diversity inside of a college environment is an absolute necessity to ensure that everyone is able to interact with people of a wide range of identities, backgrounds, and life experiences. A Supreme Court decision in favor of upholding affirmative action could help ensure that colleges admit such a diverse student body. On the other hand, if decided in favor of SFFA, this case could lead to a slippery slope for admissions in general, which could result in colleges not recruiting for sports and applications being limited to GPA and standardized test scores. 

It is also important to consider that a large percentage of Black and brown people come from underprivileged school systems that lack the resources and funds for an individual to reach their full potential; in considering race in college admissions, colleges attempt to account for these unfair disadvantages that disproportionately affect minorities. 

However, if Asian American students are only being compared to other Asian American students, and the standard for them is higher than the average, then they are being unfairly judged in an overly competitive group. This could lead to injustice towards students who were otherwise qualified to gain admission to the university, but could not due to an uncontrollable factor in life: their race. 

Ultimately, we believe that the Supreme Court should protect the use of affirmative action in college admissions. Isabella Fiutak ’25 agreed, stating that “affirmative action… allows certain groups who are not as supported early on in education a more equitable opportunity to pursue their goals. Many of the judges against affirmative action were blatantly ignoring this fact.” Though there are numerous arguments against affirmative action, it is one of the few solutions we have to combat systemic racism and discrimination in college admissions.