X
Supreme Court of the United States building exterior
2023 Supreme Court Affirmative Action Decision

2023 U.S. Supreme Court Decision in SFFA v. Harvard and UNC Case
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) & Resources


6/29/23

Chancellor King and SUNY Board of Trustees on SCOTUS Decision on
Race Conscious Admissions Cases

“Today, the US Supreme Court attempted to pull our nation backwards in the journey toward equity and civil rights with an egregious ruling that will have serious impacts on students and families seeking the American dream of opportunity through higher education.

“Race-conscious admissions policies have enriched our institutions and our nation. Yet despite the existence of race-conscious admissions policies, Black and Latino students, along with other groups, are still underrepresented across institutions of higher education as students, faculty members, and administrators. Today’s decision threatens to undermine what progress has been made, by throwing up roadblocks and barriers when what’s needed are better paths and bridges. As Justice Sotomayor wrote in dissent: ‘The Court subverts the constitutional guarantee of equal protection by further entrenching racial inequality in education, the very foundation of our democratic government and pluralistic society.’

“At SUNY, our resolve to provide opportunity for all has never been stronger. The commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion will continue to be a factor in every goal we pursue, every program we create, every policy we promulgate, and every decision we make.

“On behalf of the students we serve; the faculty and staff who make SUNY a place of excellence; and the communities and employers that rely on SUNY’s diversity for their own success, we know that no court ruling – however misguided – can shake our understanding that our pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion, within the law, will always be integral to ensuring that SUNY is the best public system of higher education in the country.”


Frequently Asked Questions

This page will be updated on an ongoing basis - Last Update: 10/16/23 - 9:15am

SUNY's Response to the U.S. Supreme Court Decision

SUNY is currently analyzing the full implications of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.  Our commitment to supporting and uplifting all students will not change, while ensuring that we adhere to legal standards. There is a place for everyone at SUNY.  All students interested in attending SUNY are strongly encouraged to connect with the campus they are interested in to learn more about SUNY’s ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and discover how SUNY can become a destination for the next chapter of their educational journeys. 

Nothing in the Court's decision affects SUNY's mission. SUNY remains committed to DEI goals and will continue to be an engine of social mobility for students of color and students from other historically marginalized and underrepresented groups.

Background of U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Cases

The Supreme Court of the United States (“the Court”) decision was for two related cases, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. President and Fellows of Harvard (Harvard) and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (UNC). 

Links to the Court's opinion related to these two cases and other resources concerning these cases can be found below in the resources section of this page. The Court's opinion itself can also be found here.   

SFFA suggests that a greater number of Asian American students are objectively eligible for admission based on grades, test scores, and other factors but are undermined by race-based considerations in the admission determination process, in violation of the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The alleged discrimination against Asian American applicants for admission includes using illegal race-specific considerations and practices, such as racial balancing and "quota" strategies. SFFA further argued that Harvard failed to utilize effective race-neutral alternatives to achieve a diverse student population based on research. 

SFFA’s allegations against UNC are like those against Harvard concerning race-based considerations.  However, SFFA also argues that the admissions processes at UNC unfairly use race and discriminate more broadly, giving preference to racial minority applicants over all other applicants, including Caucasian candidates, violating the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. A further distinction between the Harvard and UNC cases is the fact that the UNC lawsuit is against a public university. 

SFFA has asked the Court to overturn over four decades of the Court's precedent that permits the limited consideration of race in admissions to advance the educational benefits of diversity—with the request that the Court rule, in particular, that Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), in which a Court majority affirmed Justice Powell’s Bakke (1978) opinion and articulated a clear framework of analysis, was "wrong on the day it was decided."  

U.S. Supreme Court Case Decision

The Court’s majority struck down both Harvard and UNC’s affirmative action admission programs as inconsistent with Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  In sum, the Court determined that the admissions practices “lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points.” 

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth (14th) Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

“Strict scrutiny” is a legal term of art. In this matter, it is a two-step examination by the Court of (1) whether a racial classification is used to “further compelling government interests” and (2) whether the government’s use of race is “narrowly tailored” (meaning necessary to achieve the compelling government interest at issue).  

Harvard and UNC both argued that their respective affirmative action admissions goals included training future leaders, acquiring new knowledge based on diverse outlooks, promoting a robust marketplace of ideas, and preparing engaged, productive citizens, among others.

Yes.  The Court's decision and its related findings apply to both public and private colleges and universities.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered a single opinion of the court which applies to both cases.  The majority decision was a 6-3 vote.  Chief Justice Robert’s opinion was joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett.  Concurring opinions were filed by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanagh.  Dissenting opinions were filed by Justices Sotomayor and Jackson (joined by Justice Kagan).

Implications of the U.S. Supreme Court Decision

The Court’s opinion (Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence) suggests that the decision will impact students matriculating in 2024 (the Class of 2028).  Furthermore, the Biden Administration released a FACT SHEET on the day of the decision noting that U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice will publish guidance and resources to facilitate college and university compliance with the decision within the next 45 days. 

Yes. Applicants may voluntarily respond to application prompts related to an applicant’s race/ethnicity, which may vary by academic institution and/or application.  The decision further notes that applicants may voluntarily discuss how race affected their lives, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise in their applications. 

Yes.

Yes.  The Court advised that colleges and universities are still permitted to consider an applicant’s discussion of how race affected their life in accordance with existing law. The Court distinguished between the permissible consideration of an applicant’s “experiences as an individual” from the impermissible consideration of an applicant based on their race.   According to the Court, “the touchstone of an individual’s identity [must be with respect to] challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned”—not the color of their skin. 
Colleges and universities may continue to consider “race-neutral” factors like socio-economic status, wealth, geography, first-generation status, adversity overcome, and more.

No.  The Court’s decision does not require colleges and university to prevent applicants from voluntarily sharing race-specific information in enrollment materials and admissions applications, including the Common Application, nor does it require campuses to suppress such information in the data that it receives from applicants, even if mechanisms to suppress such data are available.

No. The Arthur O. Eve Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) is a very successful and impactful SUNY program that is specifically designed to provide access, academic support, and financial aid to students with economically disadvantaged backgrounds, which captures a very diverse pool of students, including first generation students. Since the program's inception, eligibility has always been focused solely on academic and socio-economic factors and not race-conscious factors. Learn more about the SUNY Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).

The Biden Administration released a FACT SHEET the day of the decision noting that the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Justice will publish guidance and resources to facilitate college and university compliance with the decision within 45 days.  The Department of Education will convene a National Summit on Educational Opportunity in postsecondary education in July/August 2023 and issue a report afterwards.    The Administration intends to implement further initiatives to support college/university campuses referenced in the FACT SHEET, including enhanced data and analysis nationwide.

Learn More About the 2023 U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina
Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College

President Biden Administration Updates & Resources (U.S. Dept. of Ed., U.S. Dept. of Justice, etc.)