Two Lawsuits Represent First Wave of Fresh Attacks on Affirmative Action

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Two Lawsuits Represent First Wave of Fresh Attacks on Affirmative Action

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The lawsuits argue race-based admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina improperly discriminate against whites and Asian Americans.

Two federal lawsuits filed this week seek to put an end to affirmative action admission policies at colleges and universities across the country, setting in motion the first steps necessary for the issue to return to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lawsuits were filed by the Project on Fair Representation (POFR), the legal defense arm of Washington, D.C.-based Project Liberty Inc., whose sole purpose is to “support litigation that challenges racial and ethnic classifications and preferences in state and federal courts.” POFR filed the suits on behalf of Students for Fair Admissions, a newly formed nonprofit membership organization whose members include “highly qualified students recently denied admission to both schools, highly qualified students who plan to apply to both schools, and their parents,” according to the complaints.

POFR and its director, Edward Blum, were involved in two other key race-related cases to come before the Roberts Court, Fisher v. University of Texas, which challenged the affirmative action policy at the University of Texas-Austin and may be on its way back to the Roberts Court, and Shelby County v. Holder, which successfully challenged Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

The latest lawsuits target Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and argue that the universities rely on race-based affirmative action policies that impact admissions of high-achieving Asian-American and white students.

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Both lawsuits argue that so-called race neutral policies, such as giving greater consideration to a prospective student’s socioeconomic background and boosting financial aid and scholarships, can better achieve the diversity goals of race-based affirmative action policies.

The lawsuits seek to build off the 2013 Fisher case and the Roberts Court’s ruling that requires schools implement “race-neutral” policies to achieve diversity among the student body before using racial classifications and preferences.

Blum said the lawsuits are the first of many in a litigation strategy designed to push the issue before the Supreme Court. “These two lawsuits are the first of what are expected to be several similar challenges to other competitive colleges that continue to unconstitutionally use racial preferences in admission decisions,” he said in a statement.

The lawsuits contend these schools should also end the practice of giving preference to so-called legacy students and early admission deadlines, practices the plaintiffs maintain hurt low-income and minority applicants in favor of wealthy and white applicants.

Neither the University of North Carolina nor Harvard University have responded to the lawsuits.