Washington, Oct 31 (EFE).- The US Supreme Court on Monday began weighing whether or not to end race-conscious admissions programs, hearing arguments in two cases challenging affirmative action at US universities.
The two cases pertain to whether or not affirmative action should be maintained and they involve the admissions systems and procedures at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
The Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) organization, which filed the cases, contends that both institutions discriminate against Asian-Americans in favor of other minorities such as blacks and Latinos.
The US high court, which includes six conservative and three progressive justices, on Monday limited itself to hearing oral arguments regarding affirmative action, which establishes privileges for minorities who were previously discriminated against on the basis of race, gender or nationality.
The last time the Supreme Court handed down a ruling on a similar case was in 2016, when it ruled against a white woman who sued the University of Texas for not admitting her as a student in favor of other minority candidates.
Since that ruling was issued, however, the court has changed its composition dramatically and on Monday some of the conservative justices expressed skepticism about continuing to let universities admit students using race as a factor in that decision.
Affirmative action took on special importance in the US during the Civil Rights Movement to gain greater rights for African Americans and the end of racial segregation in schools during the 1950s.
Progressive Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first female African American on the high court and its most recently appointed member, recused herself from the Harvard case because she used to be on that school’s admissions committee.
Harvard attorney Seth Waxman on Monday denied that the university he is defending takes “racial balance” into account in its admissions process or discriminates against Asian-Americans, claiming that although race can be a factor in certain cases it is only one factor within a larger picture.
The magazine The Hill noted on Monday that the freshman class at the University of North Carolina includes 65 percent whites, 22 percent Asian-Americans, 10 percent blacks and 10 percent Hispanics, although the total percentage amounts to more than 100 percent because some students are counted in two categories.
At Harvard, meanwhile, the freshman class consists of 40 percent whites, 28 percent Asian-Americans, 14 percent blacks and 12 percent Latinos.
The university said on Twitter on Monday that its admissions process values academic excellence but never reduces the decision to admit a student candidate to just one factor, adding that it does not discriminate against any group.
Nine of the 50 US states have prohibited race from being used as a factor in the admissions process of public universities: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.
Ryan Park, an attorney defending UNC, on Monday emphasized that checking the race box on the application form is not obligatory, adding that even for those applicants who fill it in it is not the only criterion the university takes into account in deciding whether or not to admit them as students.