During Supreme Court arguments, Ketanji Brown Jackson spars with a pro-affirmative action attorney.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and a student group’s attorney sparred on Monday over whether the group has “standing” to file a lawsuit to remove affirmative action in college admissions.

Jackson questioned Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) attorney Patrick Strawbridge, “Why is it that race is doing anything different to your members’ capacity to compete in this climate,” as opposed to a variety of other admissions-related criteria.

Jackson continued, “It’s in the context of all the other criteria the admissions office is looking at.” You haven’t given an example of a circumstance in which race is the only factor being considered. They are observing the whole individual.

Jackson added that it appeared as though SFFA was attempting to get “special standing” in the matter. Standing is the legal word for the “damage” that one person has experienced, which entitles that person to file a lawsuit in order to have it fixed.

Justices in Harvard and North Carolina Supreme Court cases hear arguments regarding affirmative action.

Race is nearly never the lone consideration in a college admissions decision, according to Strawbridge. He asserted that it is one aspect, at least for certain applicants, that tips the scales unjustly.

It is contradictory in a zero-sum game. Jackson was informed by Strawbridge that if race was to be taken into consideration, and if a racial classification—which is strongly opposed in legal proceedings due to its inescapably invidious nature—was to be employed, it must be demonstrated to be effective.

According to Strawbridge, institutions that use affirmative action “make decisions about who they will admit based at least in part on the applicant’s race.” Certain races benefit. Some racial groups do not benefit.


During the initial exchanges of Monday’s argument, Jackson was one of the justices who spoke up the most, arguing back and forth with Strawbridge multiple times.

Later, she and Strawbridge got into a fight over whether UNC asks applicants’ races of applicants.

I failed to see that they were aiming for a specific target or that a goal existed. Jackson remarked, “I actually believed that the reviewers didn’t even realize how many other kids of color had been admitted as they went through the process.” They aren’t using the system, I reasoned, in order to achieve some type of racial aim.

According to Strawbridge, the institution didn’t put its present policy into place as Jackson had described it until after SFFA had filed its case.

Jackson also pointed out that schools frequently take into account students’ non-racial traits, such as whether or not they are parents and veterans, when making admissions decisions.

What you’re arguing is that the institution can consider and value all of the other backgrounds and personal qualities of other applicants in the context of a holistic assessment process, but they can’t value race, Jackson continued. What concerns me is that it seems to have the potential to exacerbate the equal protection issue rather than addressing it.

Jackson also provided a scenario involving two candidates, both of whom are natives of North Carolina, one of whom is a descendant of a slave and the other of whom has generations of ancestors who attended UNC. Because his heritage is “wrapped up” in his identity as a Black man, Jackson claimed that the descendant of slaves can have his background excluded.

A student or applicant who is African-American and who would like to have the fact that he has been in North Carolina for generations through his family, and they have never had the opportunity to attend this school, honored and considered, and it’s bound up with his race, said Jackson, “in almost exactly the same set of circumstances.” You claim, I believe, that he was not authorized to say that and that the university was not authorized to take that into consideration.

In response, Strawbridge said UNC might take into account applicants who would be the first generation in their family to attend college and whether they are in financial need. But according to Strawbridge, race shouldn’t matter in the twenty-first century.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a basis for decisions regarding admitting pupils who were born in 2003, he added.

A major institution is being sued by SFFA in two instances before the Supreme Court because of its practice of considering race when making admissions choices. The University of North Carolina was the target of the first Monday case. Following the UNC case, the court is hearing a related case against Harvard.

According to SFFA, it is a coalition of hopeful applicants, applicants to higher education institutions who were rejected admission, their parents, and other people who support the organization’s goal and objective of eradicating racial prejudice in higher education admissions. The SFFA has members all around the nation.

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