RALEIGH — Ten current and former Democratic governors from six southern states have filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of the use of race-based admissions at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard University.
Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), the plaintiff, has asserted that both universities are discriminating against qualified Asian students in favor of Black and Hispanic students. Lower courts have ruled in favor of both schools so far, prompting SFFA to take their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The cases of SFFA versus UNC-CH and Harvard were originally consolidated by the high court but on July 22 in an unsigned order, the cases were separated with no explanation given.
“Our public universities are the training grounds for our state workforce and the next generation of state leaders and government works better when it looks like the people it represents,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement about the amicus filing. “It is critical for states across the South, including North Carolina, to continue to close the education gap. Our public universities are the training grounds and foundation for our state’s workforce and the next generation of state leaders.”
Cooper is joined in the amicus brief by John Bel Edwards, the current Gov. of Louisiana. Past governors include Roy Barnes, Georgia; Mike Easley, North Carolina; Jim Hodges, South Carolina; Jim Hunt, North Carolina; Ray Mabus, Mississippi; Terry McAuliffe, Virginia; Beverly Perdue, North Carolina; and Richard Riley, South Carolina.
The governors’ brief argues that diverse, high-achieving student bodies are critical to maintaining effective state government and states that “Allowing schools to maintain those narrowly tailored race-conscious admissions programs will ensure that the future leaders continue to reflect the diversity of their home States.”
“In addition, race-conscious admissions programs further effective state government by increasing public faith in government,” the brief says, and that North Carolina’s public universities are “part and parcel of the state government’s commitment to developing the talents of all individuals from all walks of life.”
Another argument the brief makes is that overturning “narrowly tailored race-conscious admissions policies” threatens programs and other efforts in the states represented in the brief to “increase academic achievement and promote diversity.”
The governors’ brief also posits that “careful consideration” of race in college applications is not discrimination and should be allowed to continue.
“Amici strongly believe that racial discrimination has no place in American society. But careful consideration of race as one factor in an individualized assessment of a college applicant is not discrimination,” the brief states. “The States that Amici have led should be permitted to continue to account for race when selecting the students who will become the backbone of the South’s state and local governments.”
The same day the amicus brief by the current and former governors was announced, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Massachusetts, and the ACLU of North Carolina issued a statement that they had also filed an amicus brief “urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold universities’ ability to consider race in college admissions.”
“Ending the consideration of race in college admissions would ignore the country’s ongoing challenge of racial inequality and threaten diversity and inclusion on campuses everywhere,” said Sarah Hinger, senior staff attorney with the ACLU racial justice program. “Race-conscious admissions practices help create a diverse student body and enrich the educational experiences of all students. The Supreme Court’s holdings have recognized this for decades, and we urge the court to protect universities’ ability to consider race in the admissions process.”
While the ACLU, Cooper, and the other governors have filed on the side of the universities, North Carolina and Virginia Lt. Govs. Mark Robinson and Winsome Sears filed in support of SFFA on May 9. Robinson and Sears are both the first black Lt. Govs. in their respective states.
So far, at least 30 amicus briefs in support of SFFA’s case have been filed including one filed by Gail Heriot and Peter N. Kirsanow, two members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the Supreme Court’s most recent addition, took her seat on June 30. Jackson will hear the UNC-CH case, but recuse herself from the case involving her alma mater, Harvard. She also currently sits on the Harvard board.