Supreme Court hears five hours of oral arguments on affirmative action challenges

Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 5:00 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The University of North Carolina’s admissions policy is playing a central role in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging affirmative action. That’s the policy that allows colleges and universities to consider an applicant’s race to increase diversity on campus.

The University of North Carolina said it continues considering race, among the dozens of other factors, to increase diversity after its long history of racial discrimination.

Justices took their time Monday, spending nearly three hours hearing the case challenging the University of North Carolina’s admissions policy. That was one of two cases heard that could have a sweeping impact on race-conscious college admissions.

The court’s conservative justices questioned about how long race-conscious admissions are needed, and what the University of North Carolina does with race information. Justice Clarence Thomas repeatedly pressed lawyers to explain the benefits of racial diversity on college campuses.

“So tell me what the educational benefits are,” Justice Thomas directed North Carolina Solicitor General Ryan Park.

Park defended the university’s use of race, saying it’s one of many factors the university considers, and it’s information that applicants volunteer.

Pressed by liberal justices, Park said race identification alone does not mean minority applicants are automatically admitted to the university.

Nine states, including California, Florida, and Michigan, have banned colleges from considering race.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said, “virtually all of the states that have banned consideration of race in any respect experienced a dramatic drop in enrollment of unrepresented minority students, particularly Black students and Native American students, but particularly Black students. So there is a price to pay by banning the minor use of race in college admissions, isn’t there?”

U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Preloger responded, “I agree with that, Justice Sotomayor.”

The court also heard a second case related to Harvard University’s admissions policy. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself because she recently served on the university’s advisory governing board.

The court is expected to rule on the cases by next summer.