Relman Colfax, along with co-counsel the North Carolina Justice Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, filed a merits brief before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of students and alumni of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (“UNC”), asking the Court to uphold Grutter v. Bollinger and related precedent that permit race-conscious university admissions. Relman Colfax represents several alumni of color (“Students”) who intervened in the case, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina, et al., at the district court level.

In 2014, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (“SFFA”) brought suit against UNC, alleging that UNC’s consideration of race in its admissions process violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. 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.

In the Brief for the Students, filed on July 25, 2022, Relman Colfax explains that a race-conscious university admissions policy is entirely consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment’s purpose to end racial subjugation in the United States. In fact, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Court recognized the importance of racial integration and equal educational opportunity, holding that excluding Black students from white-only schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As the Brief for the Students 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 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 team on this case includes attorneys Soohyun Choi, Gemma Donofrio, and Reed Colfax, summer associates Alexis Nail and Rubin Biggs, and paralegals Mariana Boully Perez and Max Niles.

A copy of the brief is available here.

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