The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments October 31 in a pair of cases which could spell the end of affirmative action on American college campuses.
Activist Edward Blum with the group Students for Fair Admissions sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, arguing race-conscious admissions criteria unconstitutionally discriminate against Asian American students.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a Latino civil rights organization, said he expects the court to rule against affirmative action. But he suggested colleges still can address the problem from a different angle.
“Among the race-neutral remedies that we should expect universities to look at are eliminating selection criteria that have demonstrated an unjustified discriminatory effect on Latino and Black students,” Saenz contended. “These are things like standardized tests, and even things like teacher recommendations.”
California banned preferential treatment in education and government in 1996 with Proposition 209.
Since then, the share of Black, Native American and Latino students in public universities has fallen. For example, Latinos made up 59% of the state’s high school graduates in 2019, but only 29% of that year’s freshman class at the University of California.
Sally Chen, education equity program manager for the group Chinese for Affirmative Action, said Blum is no friend of students of color.
“He is not calling for anti-bias trainings, support for professors of color, funding cultural centers, or anything that really supports students of color,” Chen pointed out. “He’s advancing Asian Americans as a front in this conservative right-wing attack on civil rights.”
Private colleges and universities in California were not covered by Proposition 209 and can still use race-conscious admissions policies, but it could change if the Supreme Court rules against Harvard University, a private institution.