In 2003, in the landmark case of Grutter v. Bollinger, the United States Supreme Court built on its earlier decision in Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke. It clarified the standard necessary for institutions of higher education to establish admission processes that considered race as a factor. Although we have seen advantageous benefits and a rise in minorities joining institutions of higher education throughout the United States, the policy has faced several challenges since this ruling. Recently, in November of 2014, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a nonprofit, filed separate lawsuits against Harvard College and the University of North Carolina, challenging their admissions process. SFFA argued that the institutions’ race-conscious admissions programs violated both Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. At the district court level, the court ruled that Harvard’s and UNC’s admissions programs complied with the Grutter standard and thus were constitutional. The Harvard lawsuit was appealed to the First Circuit, which affirmed the lower court’s decision. However, on June 29th, the United States Supreme Court rendered its decision overruling the lower courts and held that the admissions programs at both institutions violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Although the Court did not explicitly overturn its ruling in Grutter, it narrowed its application by limiting how race can be considered in the admissions process. Now universities and colleges cannot use race as a standalone factor in the admissions process, but rather it can only be considered if the applicant “discuss[es] how race may have affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise,” as noted in the majority opinion by Chief Justice Roberts. This effectively renders current race-conscious admission policies void and will require many institutions to reconsider ways to continue to diversify their campuses through a colorblind approach. However, as argued by those who supported upholding affirmative action, a colorblind approach to admissions will likely result in less diverse campuses regardless of efforts.