Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson Monday clashed with a lawyer for a student group seeking to end affirmative action in college admissions, as the justice challenged whether the group has “standing” to sue.
“Why is it that race is doing anything different to your members’ ability to compete in this environment,” in comparison to a number of other factors involved in admissions, Jackson asked Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) lawyer, Patrick Strawbridge.
“It’s in the context of all of the other factors…the admissions office is looking at,” Jackson added. “You haven’t demonstrated or shown one situation in which all they look at is race. They’re looking at the full person.”
Jackson also said that SFFA seemed to be looking for “special standing” in the case. Standing is a legal term for the “harm” suffered by one person that allows the person to sue in court to have it remedied.
JUSTICES HEAR ARGUMENTS OVER AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN HARVARD, UNC SUPREME COURT CASES
Strawbridge admitted that race is almost never the only factor in a college admission decision. However, he argued that the fact it is one factor that tips the scales unfairly for at least some applicants.
“It makes no sense in a zero-sum game. If we are going to consider race, and we argue that a racial classification – which is highly disfavored at law because of its necessarily invidious nature – is going to be used, it clearly must be doing some work,” Strawbridge told Jackson.
Strawbridge argued schools that use affirmative action are “making distinctions upon who it will admit at least in part on the race of the applicant. Some races get a benefit. Some races do not get a benefit.”
A TIMELINE OF SUPREME COURT CASES ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN COLLEGE ADMISSIONS
Jackson was one of the most vocal justices during the early stages of Monday’s argument, going back and forth with Strawbridge on several occasions.
The Supreme Court is hearing two cases in which SFFA is suing a major university over its policy of including race as a factor in admissions decisions. The first case Monday was against the University of North Carolina. The court is hearing a similar case against Harvard immediately following the UNC case.
SFFA says that it, “is a coalition of prospective applicants and applicants to higher education institutions who were denied admission to higher education institutions, their parents, and other individuals who support the organization’s purpose and mission of eliminating racial discrimination in higher education admissions. SFFA has members throughout the country.”
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The group also said in its initial filing against UNC that its membership includes at least one White student who was denied admission to the university. The Harvard case set to be argued later Monday focuses more on how Harvard’s policies allegedly harm Asian American applicants.
Those who support the use of affirmative action in college admissions cite multiple past Supreme Court precedents that say it is permissible.
Affirmative action supporters also say it is important to ensure diversity at universities, which serve as pipelines to key leadership positions in society.