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February 3, 2023

Report From the High Court: Justices Appear Skeptical on Affirmative Action

In arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court today, justices with a history of opposing affirmative action—or new justices expected to oppose affirmative action—asked questions that suggested skepticism about the practice. The three justices appointed by Democrats—Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor—posed questions that suggested support for affirmative action.

Discussing affirmative action at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Justice Clarence Thomas said he didn't "have a clue" about what diversity means and didn't "put much stock" in the educational value of diversity.

Several justices addressed the question of how long affirmative action should be needed, an issue raised by former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in a 2003 ruling.

Justice Jackson, meanwhile, presented a hypothetical situation on two students applying to UNC. One would be the fifth generation to graduate from UNC. The second's family members were enslaved and had never had a chance to attend UNC.

"As I understand your ‘no race-conscious admissions rule,’ " she said, "these two applicants would have a dramatically different opportunity to tell their family stories and to have them count. The first applicant would be able to have his family background considered and valued by the institution as part of its consideration of whether or not to admit him, while the second one wouldn’t be able to because his story is in many ways bound up with his race and with the race of his ancestors.”

Read more about today's Supreme Court arguments here.
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