In November 2014, Students for Fair Admissions Inc. (SFFA), a private group, filed a federal lawsuit against UNC-Chapel Hill and university officials challenging the constitutionality of our undergraduate admissions process and seeking to end the University’s consideration of race in admissions.
SFFA alleged that “race is a dominant factor” “to the detriment of white and Asian American applicants” at Carolina but at trial the evidence overwhelmingly showed the admissions office uses race in a limited, permissible fashion and that race is not the dominant factor in admissions. The trial court agreed in its 2021 decision.
The lawsuit challenges long-standing U.S. Supreme Court legal precedent that permits colleges and universities, including UNC-Chapel Hill, to provide educational benefits to all students by considering race as one factor among many when assessing students for admission to create a diverse community of learners.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected similar claims against UT-Austin’s admissions practices in 2016. (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin) That was the fourth time in 40 years that the Supreme Court reaffirmed that the educational benefits of a diverse student body constitute a compelling interest that can justify the narrowly tailored consideration of race in college admissions. SFFA filed a new federal lawsuit against UT-Austin in 2020 that was dismissed in July 2021.
SFFA also filed a federal lawsuit against Harvard University that went to trial in fall 2018. After a bench trial, the federal district court ruled in Harvard’s favor in October 2019. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld that decision in 2020.
In 2021, SFFA petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the Harvard case, and the Supreme Court asked the U.S. solicitor general to file a brief expressing the views of the government. The solicitor general recommended the Supreme Court deny SFFA’s petition in the Harvard case and affirm the lower court rulings.
SFFA filed a petition for certiorari in 2021 in UNC-Chapel Hill’s case asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments on an expedited basis, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit considered the appeal. The University opposed that petition in a December 2020 brief.
In January 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court granted SFFA’s petitions for certiorari in both the Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill cases, consolidating the two.