The US Supreme Court takes up university affirmative action policies

After abortion, firearms and vaccination obligations, the Supreme Court of the United States added a highly sensitive subject to its program on Monday, agreeing to examine affirmative action policies in universities.

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The high court, firmly anchored in conservatism, will examine by the end of the year the selection mechanisms in place within the prestigious Harvard University and the public university of North Carolina.

These institutions, like many others in the United States, take into account ethnic criteria to ensure student diversity and correct the under-representation of black and Hispanic young people.

Candidates of Asian origin, gathered within the association “Students for Fair admission”, had taken legal action in 2014 claiming to be discriminated against by these devices. According to them, they are proportionally under-represented in these establishments given their academic results, which are above average.

After losing at first instance and then on appeal, despite the support of President Donald Trump, they turned to the Supreme Court. By accepting their appeal, the High Court indicated that it could give them satisfaction.

It would be a major reversal after decades of fierce controversy over affirmative action programs, introduced in the late 1960s to redress inequalities stemming from America’s racist and segregationist past.

These policies have always been fiercely contested on the right. White students, claiming to be victims of “reverse discrimination”, have regularly filed complaints against these mechanisms.

So far they have always lost. The Supreme Court itself ruled in 2003 that universities could take into account certain racial criteria provided that they were aimed solely at ensuring the diversity of the student population.

The temple of American law, where six of the nine judges are conservatives, including three appointed by Donald Trump, could now reverse course, just as it seems ready to reconsider the right to abortion.

The administration of Democratic President Joe Biden, taking the opposite view of his predecessor, asked him not to go down this path, emphasizing, in a written argument, “the undeniable interest in education of have a diverse student body”.

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