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Supreme Court’s conservative majority questions race-conscious admissions

Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito on Oct. 31 challenged attorney Seth Waxman on Harvard's admission policies. (Video: The Washington Post)

Conservative Supreme Court justices on Monday seemed open to ending decades of precedent allowing race-conscious admission decisions at colleges and universities, expressing doubt that the institutions would ever concede an “endpoint” in their use of race to build diverse student bodies.

After nearly five hours of oral argument, the programs at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill seemed in doubt. The question is how broad such a decision by the court’s conservative majority might be, and what it would mean for other institutions of higher education.

Overturning the court’s precedents that race can be one factor of many in making admission decisions would have “profound consequences” for “the nation that we are and the nation that we aspire to be,” Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar told the justices during arguments in the Harvard case. She said educating a diverse group of national leaders benefited the military, medical and scientific communities and corporate America.

Here’s what to know

  • Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is often a moderating force and hesitant to overturn court precedent, has long questioned race-conscious government policies and been skeptical of what he has called the “sordid business” of dividing Americans by race.
  • The three President Donald Trump nominees — along with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was nominated by President Biden — do not have extensive records on cases involving racial preferences from their tenures as appeals court judges.
  • Recent public opinion polling shows most Americans support a ban on the consideration of race in college admissions, but an equally strong majority backs programs to boost racial diversity on campuses.
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Here's what to know:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who is often a moderating force and hesitant to overturn court precedent, has long questioned race-conscious government policies and been skeptical of what he has called the “sordid business” of dividing Americans by race.
The three President Donald Trump nominees — along with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was nominated by President Biden — do not have extensive records on cases involving racial preferences from their tenures as appeals court judges.
Recent public opinion polling shows most Americans support a ban on the consideration of race in college admissions, but an equally strong majority backs programs to boost racial diversity on campuses.

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