On Monday the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases challenging affirmative action, or race-conscious admissions, at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

The lawsuits were placed on behalf of students by legal strategist Edward Blum, a longtime advocate against affirmative action. The challengers claim that Harvard University’s admissions system is discriminatory against Asians and that UNC’s admission system discriminates against white and Asian applicants.

The Supreme Court has rejected such cases and upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions in the past such as the Grutter v. Bollinger case at the University of Michigan Law School in 2003 and the Fisher v. University of Texas in 2016.

The problem is, with Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett as justices, both appointed by Trump, affirmative action is at risk of being dismantled, grimly affecting Black and Latino students.

“Any ruling that calls into question the legality of race-conscious admissions would be a huge reversal of more than 40 years of Supreme Court precedent,” said Cara McClellan, an assistant counsel at NAACP’s Legal and Education Defense Fund. “It would be quite a radical act for that to be the outcome.”  

“The end of holistic admissions would lead to a severe reduction in the number of Black and Latino students at Harvard and, if the ruling is broader, at other universities,” McClellan continued. “Race-conscious admissions has been key to providing diversity on campus.” 

A study in 2020 authored by Zachary Bleemer, a member of Opportunity Insights research group at Harvard University, found that after California’s university systems banned race-conscious admissions during a 1996 ballot initiative, more students of color enrolled in less selective universities and were less likely to get a degree, less likely to get a graduate degree, and less likely to get a job in STEM.

The study also found that although most students of color meet the qualifications to enroll in more selective universities in California, thousands are discouraged from applying.

“When Black and Hispanic students lost access to California’s more selective universities, they lost access to this public investment,” said Bleemer.

Author of the “Diversity Bargain” and professor of sociology at Tufts University said that the end of affirmative action would also negatively impact students of color who do get into selective universities.

“They will have a much smaller community of same-race peers, and are more likely to be the only underrepresented minority in a class and have less access to social networks that we know are important for students of color on their college campuses,” Warikoo said. “I really see it as this two-fold impact on Black and Latino students.”

“Unfortunately, with a more conservative-leaning bench, we’re seeing a lot of the policies meant to advance civil and human rights become under attack,” said Marshall Anthony, an associate director at the Center for American Progress. “We need a higher ed system that is accessible to all and affordable to all … and affirmative action is one of those policy vehicles to ensure that actually happens.”