The Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) victory over Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in two Supreme Court cases challenging affirmative action disrupted institutions’ long-standing admissions practices and ended a near-decade-long litigation battle. However, this may beckon a more wide-ranging dismantling of diversity practices in higher education.
Last week, lawyers for SFFA filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), contending that its racial balancing techniques violate the Fifth Amendment. While the Supreme Court exempted military schools from its June ruling to preserve military academies’ “compelling interests,” SFFA posits “[t]he Academy is not exempt from the Constitution.”
According to court documents, SFFA contended that West Point defends its pursuit for racial parity because cadets that adequately represent the general population are essential for a pluralistic society. However, the plaintiff believes this perspective pigeonholes cadets by their ethnicity rather than observing their merit.
“Over the years, courts have been mindful of the military’s unique role in our nation’s life and the distinctive considerations that come with it,” said SFFA President Edward Blum in a statement. “However, no level of deference justifies these polarizing and disliked racial classifications and preferences in admissions to West Point or any of our service academies.”
Richard Blum’s litigation blitz
Blum, the architect behind SFFA, has his hand in many kitchens on his quest to end racial preference any which way regarding higher education.
As the president of SFFA, his triumphant litigation against affirmative action nationwide and now possibly at West Point doesn’t stop there. The conclusion of the Supreme Court ruling reawakened his crusade against other major universities.
Yale University reached a settlement with SFFA earlier this month and has since revamped race-neutral admission efforts. For example, the Ivy League school committed to enhancing its outreach and pipeline programming and promoted its use of The Opportunity Atlas to find financially at-risk students, according to The New York State Bar Association.
Blum’s effort against race-based preferences doesn’t stop at admissions. As the president of the American Alliance for Equal Rights (AAER), the non-profit firm sued two international law firms over its fellowships that target diverse student bodies. Both firms host fellowships that incentivize students for underrepresented groups to pursue a career in the legal industry, which AAER alleges violates the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Forbes reports.
Others targeting scholarship diversity programs
The Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action has empowered other nonprofits outside of AAER to target what they deem discriminatory scholarships and fellowships.
The Equal Protection Project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation has filed “more than a dozen complaints” with the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office over universities’ minority scholarships and fellowships, Reuters reports.
For example, Western Kentucky University and Kansas State University, the firm alleges, are violating civil rights law by offering undergraduate and graduate scholarships based on students’ minority standing. Additionally, the firm is targeting the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for its residency program for black filmmakers.
“The typical response is, well, what’s wrong with wanting diversity?” said Cornell University clinical law professor and firm leader William Jacobson. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But you can’t do it through racial discrimination, and the Supreme Court has been very clear about that.”
Jacobson joins Wisconsin and Missouri’s political leaders in similar efforts. Within two weeks of the June Supreme Court ruling, the Missouri state attorney general urged the University of Missouri System to implement “race-blind” policies and eliminate minority scholarships. The Republican speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Robin Vos, announced his plans to pursue similar measures.
We are reviewing the decision and will introduce legislation to correct the discriminatory laws on the books and pass repeals in the fall. https://t.co/dVpNxqnF2H
— Robin Vos (@repvos) June 29, 2023
Can lawmakers, firms target scholarships following the ruling?
Because the Supreme Court ruling restricted its scope to the admissions space, it will be essential to note how lawmakers and firms such as AAER and The Equal Protection Project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation plan to defend their suits or complaints.
Dr. David Acosta, chief diversity and inclusion officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), cautions those in the post-affirmative action landscape not to over-interpret the ruling and not to be “led by fear.”
“It’s really critical that people in the admissions space really understand what the law says, and more importantly, what it doesn’t say,” Acosta says. “You have to be careful not to over-interpret it.”