An overview of affirmative action

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Early Monday morning, thousands of students took to the streets outside the U.S. Supreme Court to either argue or advocate for affirmative action. (Photo/Flickr)

The Supreme Court officially began hearing the two cases regarding the role of race in college admissions Monday. Scroll down for an overview of the policy itself, the two lawsuits and what the future holds.

What is affirmative action?

Affirmative action is a policy aimed at increasing workplace and educational opportunities for underrepresented members of society. In college admissions, it means extra consideration for minority students. Most universities review applicants “holistically,” meaning they admit students based on a variety of factors, including how unique they are. Colleges want a diverse student body, and race is one factor in this. 

Admissions departments began considering race as a factor in the late 1960s in an effort to accept more African American students who had historically been excluded from universities. 

The phrase itself was coined in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy created the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. An African American lawyer named Hobart Taylor Jr. first penned the phrase in the margins of a draft of this order. 

During the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s, activists urged schools to admit more African American applicants, and colleges responded. 

What is the current Supreme Court case?

Currently, there are two cases pending before the Supreme Court: Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students For Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (UNC). Both cases argue that the court should overrule Grutter v. Bollinger, the 2003 case that permitted the use of racial preference in student admissions. 

The case against Harvard argues that the school’s affirmative action policy discriminates against Asian Americans and gives African American, Hispanic and white students an advantage. The plaintiff claims that the school’s race-conscious selection process violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

In the UNC case, the plaintiff asserts that the public university discriminates unfairly against both Asian and white students, giving “excessive preference” to applicants of underrepresented groups. 

Students for Fair Admissions, an organization that represents students who have been rejected by selective colleges due to race, filed both lawsuits. 

What does the future hold for affirmative action?

The Supreme Court has a long history of upholding affirmative action, most recently in 2016, but the court’s ideological makeup has changed dramatically since. Out of the nine justices, six are conservatives who typically side against affirmative action. 
Throughout Monday, the court argued for nearly five hours, with the conservative majority remaining skeptical of whether race-conscious policies were necessary. Based on Monday’s hearings, it appears likely that affirmative action will be overturned, but the decision will not come until spring.

Irene, now a senior at American Heritage, returns to staff as the Online-Editor-in-Chief for her third and final year with the Patriot Post. She loves all things literature and spends most of her time with her nose in a book. Her passion for writing started early, and she is currently the co-president of the Quill and Scroll Society. When she is not studying or writing articles for the wonderful iPatriotPost, she enjoys volunteering and helping lead a multitude of clubs at Heritage. Since 2014, she has worked alongside Best Buddies, an organization that advocates for inclusivity for those with intellectual and physical disabilities. As a co-founder and current board member of the South Florida Best Buddies Student Advisory Board, she plans fundraisers and service projects, including the annual Friendship Walk, which raised almost $300,000. She looks forward to making this year special and as amazing as possible.