On November 17, 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc., an organization opposed to the use of race in the college admissions process, brought suit against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It alleged that UNC's consideration of race in its admission process violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, section 1983, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. 

Relman Colfax represents several students and applicants of color who attend or wanted to attend UNC-Chapel Hill who intervened in the litigation. They have a significant interest in ensuring that future applications are considered under a holistic process that includes the lawful consideration of race, because otherwise, they cannot obtain the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.

Finding that “the result of this litigation will have a direct and significant impact on North Carolinians’ access to UNC-Chapel Hill,” the Court granted permissive intervention, allowing Intervenors to present information on the history of segregation and discrimination at UNC-Chapel Hill and in North Carolina and the effect of admissions processes on the critical mass of diverse students at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

On September 30, 2019, U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs denied the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. In her decision, Judge Biggs reiterated the Supreme Court’s past holdings that a university may institute a race-conscious admissions program in an effort to obtain the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity, and that a trial is required to develop all of the facts necessary to determine whether UNC’s practices are narrowly tailored to achieve the goal of diversity.

On October 18, 2021, after an eight-day trial that included testimony from the Students, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta C. Biggs issued a 155-page opinion concluding that UNC’s undergraduate admissions program withstands strict scrutiny and is constitutionally permissible. Judge Biggs held that UNC has a compelling interest in student body diversity and that UNC’s admissions program—in which the University uses race as one of many factors as part of an individualized, holistic review of each student’s application—is narrowly tailored to achieve the educational benefits of diversity recognized by the Supreme Court. SFFA subsequently petitioned for a writ of certiorari before the Supreme Court, and the Court granted review.

On July 25, 2022, Relman Colfax filed a merits brief before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of students and alumni of UNC asking the Court to uphold Grutter v. Bollinger and related precedent that permit race-conscious university admissions. As the brief states, UNC’s race-conscious admissions system—established in support of achieving student body diversity—is wholly consistent with the Court’s holding in Brown v. Board and Grutter (in both cases, the Court emphasized how segregated schools perpetuate stigmatization and inferiority, and noted the importance of students learning together in a racially diverse educational environment). Further, UNC considers race as one among more than forty criteria considered in every application, in addition to employing several race-neutral strategies to achieve diversity. The admissions system is thus narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling interest of student body diversity.

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument and issue an opinion in this case during the 2022-2023 term.

The Relman Colfax litigation team is assisted by co-counsel at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the North Carolina Justice Center

Case Caption

Students for Fair Admission v. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, No. 14-954 (M.D.N.C.)

Students for Fair Admission v. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, No. 21-707 (United States Supreme Court)

Published Decisions

319 F.R.D. 490 (M.D.N.C. 2017) (granting permissive intervention to student intervenors)

567 F. Supp. 3d 580 (M.D.N.C. 2021) (trial findings of fact and conclusions of law)

Practice Areas


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