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UNC asks court to stay affirmative action case pending U.S. Supreme Court review of similar Texas challenge

UNCAttorneys for the University of North Carolina have asked U.S. District Judge Loretta C. Biggs in Winston-Salem to stay proceedings in the case challenging its admissions policies pending review by the U.S. Supreme Court of an affirmative action case out of Texas, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

How the high court rules next term in Fisher will have some bearing on the case filed here in November, Students for Fair Admissions v. UNC, alleging similar flaws in the university’s admission policies. (A separate lawsuit was filed in Massachusetts federal court against Harvard by the same group on the same day.)

As SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston described the Harvard and UNC lawsuits:

The basic thrust of the new lawsuits is that Harvard and the flagship university in North Carolina are using admissions programs that cannot satisfy the tough constitutional test for judging race-based policy — “strict scrutiny.”  But their broader theme is that the Supreme Court’s affirmative action efforts beginning with the Bakke ruling have failed to end racial bias in admissions programs, so it is now time to overrule Bakke and at least one other decision.

In the lawsuits, filed under the name “Students for Fair Admissions Inc.,” attorneys for plaintiffs  selected after a nationwide search by backers of Project for Fair Representation argue that diversity at the schools can be achieved by race-neutral alternatives and that public colleges and others receiving federal funds should be ordered to end the use of race in admissions altogether.

As counsel for UNC pointed out in papers filed yesterday:

The primary issue before the Supreme Court in Fisher II—whether the Fifth Circuit properly concluded that the University of Texas at Austin’s use of racial preferences in its undergraduate admissions program complies with the Supreme Court’s precedents—is the central issue in this case brought by Plaintiff Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. challenging the University’s undergraduate admissions policy. Critical questions in Fisher II will be whether UT-Austin’s admission policy is narrowly tailored to achieve the educational benefits of diversity, what evidence UT-Austin must present to prove that proposition, and how a court must apply strict scrutiny to evaluate whether UT-Austin has met its burden. Because Fisher II presents the Supreme Court with an opportunity to clarify further the law governing how public universities may consider race in the admissions process, it is certain to affect the standards that govern this litigation.

The same attorneys representing Fisher at the Supreme Court are representing the students in both the UNC and Harvard cases.

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