Federal government’s top Supreme Court lawyer will take part in UNC admissions case

U.S. Supreme Court filing compares UNC leaders to 1950s-era segregationists


The U.S. solicitor general will take part in oral arguments next month in a U.S. Supreme Court case dealing with admissions policies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The nation’s highest court announced Friday that oral arguments on Oct. 31 will last 90 minutes. That’s 30 minutes longer than the time allotment originally announced.

The group Students for Fair Admissions filed a lawsuit challenging the use of race in UNC admissions. SFFA will have 45 minutes to present its case. The university will have 20 minutes for its response. A group of students supporting UNC’s admissions policy will have 10 minutes of argument time. The solicitor general will have 15 minutes.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar oversees the federal government’s litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court. Prelogar had filed a motion Aug. 1 asking to take part in the case. The federal government is supporting UNC’s use of race as a factor in admissions.

“This case presents two questions concerning the continuing ability of colleges and universities to consider race as a limited part of a holistic admissions process under the Equal Protection
Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Prelogar wrote in August. “The United States has a substantial interest in the resolution of those questions.”

“The United States has authority to enforce the Equal Protection Clause in the context of public university admissions,” she added. “The United States is also responsible for enforcing Title VI. And the United States has a vital interest in ensuring that our Nation’s institutions of higher education — including the military’s service academies — produce graduates who come from all segments of society and who are prepared to succeed and lead in an increasingly diverse Nation.”

Prelogar defended the precedent in a 2003 case called Grutter. That decision “correctly held that the educational benefits of student-body diversity are a sufficiently compelling interest to justify narrowly tailored consideration of race in university admissions.”

Students for Fair Admissions rejects arguments for preserving the Grutter precedent. SFFA’s last brief in the case, filed Aug. 24, compared defenders of UNC’s use of race in admissions to 1950s-era segregationists.

The brief claimed UNC’s defenders presented the same arguments as opponents of the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

“UNC’s argument is not with SFFA; it is with Brown,” SFFA’s lawyers wrote. “That landmark decision fulfilled the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise by requiring that ‘education … be made available to all on equal terms.’ As the United States explained then, no neutral principle ‘could support a constitutional distinction between universities on the one hand, and public elementary or high schools on the other.’ Yet Grutter draws just that distinction.”

“In defending Grutter’s detour from Brown, UNC makes the same arguments that Brown rejected,” the SFFA brief continued. “It claims that the postbellum era vindicates its reading of the Fourteenth Amendment. It argues that racial classifications make everyone better off. It warns that universities cannot discard race quite yet. And it contends that the legality of its practices should be decided by North Carolinians, not this Court. The segregationists agreed.”

“The path forward is clear. Universities must treat each applicant ‘as an American, and not as a member of a particular … race.’” according to the brief. “‘The rule of stare decisis,’ as the Government stressed in Brown, must give way to ‘the fundamental principle that all Americans, whatever their race or color, stand equal and alike before the law.’ This Court should overrule Grutter; [and] reaffirm the principle of racial neutrality in the Declaration, the Constitution, Title VI, and Brown.”

The UNC case had been paired with SFFA’s similar challenge of race-based admissions at Harvard University. The Supreme Court announced on July 22 that the two cases would be argued separately.

After the Oct. 31 oral arguments, Supreme Court observers expect a decision in the UNC and Harvard cases near the end of the court’s term next June.


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