Justices Will Hear A Challenge To Affirmative Action That Isn’t Really About Affirmative Action

Julian Nyarko

(Originally published by The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage on February 22, 2022)

The latest challenge to affirmative action — now headed to the Supreme Court — has a potent twist. Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) argues that Harvard University imposed an illegal “Asian penalty” to reduce the number of Asian Americans on campus. It claims that this purported penalty, together with allegations of illicit racial balancing, shows that Harvard and other universities can’t be trusted to make lawful admissions decisions. SFFA consequently demands the court eliminate affirmative action altogether — not just at Harvard, but at all universities nationwide.

This bid seemingly pits one minority group against other minority groups. But SFFA has strategically combined two conceptually and legally distinct issues: an alleged Asian penalty and affirmative action writ large.

(Continue reading the opinion essay on Monkey Cage’s page here.)