AccessLex Institute Statement on Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) Supreme Court Rulings
June 29, 2023 – This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued its long-anticipated rulings in the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) cases against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. The rulings deem the use of race-conscious affirmative action to be unconstitutional in the context of admission to selective education programs, overturning more than 40 years of SCOTUS precedent that granted schools the right to pursue student body diversity. Until today, schools were allowed to pursue student body diversity by considering an applicant’s race as one of many admission factors due to the immense educational benefits that flow from diverse learning environments. These benefits are so vast the Court had deemed them “compelling,” until the SFFA rulings.
While the rulings allow schools to consider “how race affected an applicant’s life,” the rulings deprive schools of a longstanding, impactful tool for seeking to foster learning environments that reflect the increasingly diverse country. The effects of these rulings will be significant and noticeable, serving to decrease diversity across the higher education spectrum. A recent AccessLex study found that, on average, state-level affirmative action bans led to a five percentage-point decrease in the proportion of J.D. degrees awarded to underrepresented people of color. These downward trends intensify over time, from a decrease of four percentage points one year following a ban to a decrease of eight percentage points seven years later. In short, state-level affirmative action bans predictably harm racial and ethnic diversity. The SFFA rulings will spread such impacts nationally.
Throughout its 40-year existence, AccessLex Institute has worked to increase access to legal education for all, with a particular focus on providing pathways to the legal profession for people from underrepresented racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. We view these efforts through the frame of not only benefiting individuals but also their families and communities. The aggregate positive effects are societal and enduring.
The SFFA rulings will not stem our efforts to pursue our mission of empowering the next generation of lawyers:
- Through LexScholars, our flagship diversity pathway effort, we will continue to provide resources to aspiring lawyers from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups as well as underrepresented socioeconomic groups, irrespective of race.
- Through our research and grantmaking, we will continue to seek answers to important questions about legal education and the profession, including those pertaining to the experiences of aspiring lawyers of color.
- Through our policy efforts, we will continue to advocate for more need-based financial aid for law students and borrower-friendly federal policies that support access to legal education and affordable repayment, with the goal of leveling the proverbial playing field for underrepresented and disadvantaged people.
- With our tools, we will continue to support and encourage data-informed decision making by ensuring useful and relevant information is accessible and usable by anyone with an interest in legal education and the profession.
AccessLex remains committed to fostering racial and ethnic diversity in law schools and the legal profession, even in a so-called race-neutral environment. We will continue to support our member law schools and the public in ways that comply with the law. We will also continue to support aspiring lawyers, from law school admission to bar admission, with an enhanced focus on providing resources to those who need them most.