Why corporate America is watching a high-stakes affirmative action case

The Supreme Court on Monday took up an issue of interest to major US corporations, hearing two cases challenging affirmative action in university admissions.

The decision, which is likely to be handed down this summer, could overhaul decades of case law that allows colleges and universities to consider race in admissions. Proponents of advocacy efforts say repealing the policy would make businesses and the military less diverse because it would change the pool of college-educated workers in the U.S. they could hire.

Dozens of major corporations filed the brief, arguing that diversity helps their businesses, boosting “creativity, communication and accuracy” and improving decision-making within teams. In addition, as summarized, employees with diverse educational backgrounds work effectively with customers and clients from diverse backgrounds.

Apple ( AAPL ), according to a brief signed by General Motors, “Reflecting those efficiency gains, American businesses have invested significantly in diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives designed to promote internal racial and ethnic diversity.” GM) and Starbucks (SBUX), among dozens of others in various industries.

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Protesters gather to show support as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether colleges can continue to use race as a factor in student admissions in two cases, at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., Oct. 31, 2022.  REUTERS/ Jonathan Ernst

Protesters gather to show support as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether colleges can continue to use race as a factor in student admissions in two cases, at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S., Oct. 31, 2022. REUTERS/ Jonathan Ernst

Students for Fair Admissions, a group founded by conservative activist Edward Blum, is protesting affirmative action policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

The group claims that UNC’s consideration of race in admissions violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, which prohibits state agencies and public universities from discriminating on the basis of race. The group alleges that private Harvard University violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination by organizations that receive federal funds.

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“[N]people have a legitimate interest in being treated according to the color of their skin,” the group wrote in its appeal to the Supreme Court.

Students for Fair Admissions asked the Supreme Court to overturn a 2003 University of Michigan Law School decision, Grutter v. Bollinger, that allowed race to be a factor in admissions if the practice was narrowly adopted “to increase perceived interest.” The educational advantages that come from a diverse student body.”

In her opinion, the late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor predicted that after 25 years, affirmative action would no longer be required to make colleges more diverse.

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“How will we know when the time comes?” Justice Brett Cavanaugh asked in the UNC case, citing O’Connor’s assumption.

The newest member of the court, Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, emphasized the difficulty of achieving a race-neutral admissions process. Even if the court finds it unconstitutional to interrogate applicants based on their race, race may be factored into other aspects of the application process, such as through essays.

“Then what is North Carolina doing?” [race] information because maybe knowing that there are people of different nationalities applying to your school isn’t a violation of equal protection, is it? asked Brown Jackson.

Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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