The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s use of race as a factor in admissions is constitutional and not discriminatory, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs said that “race is not a defining feature” in the university’s admissions process, adding in her ruling that the school had made good-faith efforts to consider “race-neutral” admissions strategies.

Students for Fair Admissions, a group backed by conservative legal strategist Edward Blum, had sued the university, alleging that its admissions policies discriminated against White and Asian American students.

“Race is so interwoven in every aspect of the lived experience of minority students,” Biggs wrote. “To ignore it, reduce its importance and measure it only by statistical models as [Students for Fair Admissions] has done, misses important context.”

Beth Keith, an associate vice chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill, said in a statement that “this decision makes clear the University’s holistic admissions approach is lawful. We evaluate each student in a deliberate and thoughtful way, appreciating individual strengths, talents and contributions to a vibrant campus community where students from all backgrounds can excel and thrive.”

Blum, the president of Students for Fair Admissions, said the group would appeal the decision. The group is “disappointed that the court has upheld UNC’s discriminatory admissions policies," Blum said. "We believe that the documents, emails, data analysis and depositions SFFA presented at trial compellingly revealed UNC’s systematic discrimination against non-minority applicants.”

Blum added that “SFFA will appeal this decision to the Fourth Court of Appeals and to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court in June put off a decision on whether to review a similar case the group brought against Harvard University. In 2016, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined the court’s liberals in a 4-to-3 ruling that the University of Texas’s use of affirmative action was permissible. The Supreme Court now has a 6-3 conservative majority.

Biggs, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina by President Barack Obama, said that UNC-Chapel Hill was still “far from creating the diverse environment” it said it was pursuing. She wrote that minority students at the school felt “isolated, ostracized, stereotyped and viewed as tokens in a number of University spaces.”

“In addition,” she wrote, “the evidence shows that, as a whole, underrepresented minorities are admitted at lower rates than their white and Asian American counterparts.”

Among the 5,630 students admitted to the university for the 2021-22 school year, 65 percent were White and 21 percent were Asian or Asian American, according to figures from the school. Twelve percent were Black, 10 percent were Hispanic and 2 percent were Native American.

-- Robert Barnes contributed to this report.

More reading: