Forecasting the Impact of the Supreme Court’s Latest Affirmative Action Decision on Employers

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Brian B. Garrett
Director, Litigation Department and Chair, Education Law Practice Group
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Sean S. LaPorta
Associate, Litigation Department
Published: Employment Law Business Guide
August 7, 2023

On June 29, 2023, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, striking down decades of precedent that had previously permitted affirmative action programs in connection with admission practices at colleges and universities.  While the Harvard decision does not directly impact employers, the rationale supporting it has the potential to impact employment practices moving forward, as discussed below.

What the Supreme Court Ruling Addressed

 To understand the impact of the recent decision on employers and businesses, it is important to understand what the ruling addressed. The Supreme Court’s ruling directly confronted the constitutionality of using race in the admissions process at two of the oldest and most selective institutions of higher learning in the United States:  Harvard College and the University of North Carolina.  For decades, the Supreme Court had approved of race-conscious admissions practices that used race as a factor in a holistic review of an applicant toward creating educational diversity on campuses—practices that both Harvard and UNC admitted to using in the current case.  However, the current Supreme Court found that any use of race in admissions decisions—aside from a small carve out for considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life—violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, and is therefore illegal.

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