Georgetown University leads over 50 Catholic colleges in filing Supreme Court brief supporting affirmative action

Georgetown University has filed an amicus brief, or “friend of the court” brief, with a coalition of 56 Catholic colleges and universities urging the Supreme Court to uphold affirmative action in college admissions in two upcoming cases that call for the court to overturn a 40-year legal precedent.

Both cases were brought by the anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA). In 2014, the group, founded by Edward Blum, a conservative strategist who has frequently challenged the legality of affirmative action, sued Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for discriminatory admissions policies. SFFA accuses the universities of valuing Black and Latinx students more highly than Asian American students, NBC News reports. 

Both a District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled in favor of Harvard’s admissions process, and a district court also upheld UNC’s policies in 2021. The Supreme Court most recently upheld the legality of race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas at Austin in 2016, and its decisions on these two cases—which likely will be heard this fall—could affect college admissions throughout the country.

Upholding a commitment to diversity

Diversity is at the core of Georgetown’s mission, says university president John J. DeGioia. “Georgetown, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in the nation, was founded on the principle that engagement between people of different faiths, cultures and beliefs promotes intellectual development, an understanding of service and solidarity, and a commitment to the common good,” DeGioia says. “Our Jesuit tradition of education recognizes the value of diversity as necessary to education and in our work to shape future leaders who will make invaluable contributions to our national and global communities.”

Bisi Okubadejo, Georgetown’s associate vice president of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Compliance, also affirms that the university is “proud to stand together with more than 50 colleges and universities for affirmative action and the sustained ability to create equitable, inclusive, and diverse learning environments for our students.” Forging a coalition with other Catholic universities in support of affirmative action is “not just the right thing to do—it’s critical to our Catholic, Jesuit mission,” she states.

Related: Georgetown hires AVP for equal opportunity, affirmative action, and compliance >

This amicus brief is the third Georgetown has submitted in support of affirmative action. In 2003, the university sent a brief for Grutter v. Bollinger, and in 2016, it filed another brief for Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, both of which upheld the legality of race-conscious admissions programs at the University of Michigan Law School and the University of Texas, respectively.

Importance of diverse learning environments

In its amicus brief, the Georgetown-led coalition of Catholic colleges and universities—including University of Notre Dame, College of the Holy Cross, Fordham University, DePaul University, and Villanova University—outlines several reasons why their institutions consider applicants’ racial identity, along with a variety of other factors, as part of their holistic admissions processes. They note that:

  1. Affirmative action in admissions serves Catholic institutions’ academic mission of creating a diverse and dynamic learning environment that promotes rigorous thinking, compassion for people of different backgrounds, and service to others, especially the underserved.
  2. A diverse learning environment leads to increased tolerance and a reduction in racial stereotyping, which supports Catholic values of respect for universal human dignity and divine creation.
  3. In their commitment to social justice and the common good, Catholic universities consider students’ backgrounds, including their racial identities, to ensure talented members of underrepresented minority groups have access to high-quality education that prepares them for future leadership in service to others.
  4. The First Amendment Freedom of Speech Clause and the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause protect religious universities’ freedom to consider racial diversity in college admissions as a way of supporting their academic and religious mission. 

Amicus briefs from other groups

The Georgetown-led coalition was one of several groups submitting amicus briefs in support of affirmative action, Inside Higher Ed reports. Black women law scholars and the American Psychological Association filed briefs advocating for the continuation of race-conscious admissions. Ivy League institutions and other universities including the University of Chicago, the California Institute of Technology, and Duke submitted their own brief highlighting the “the profound importance” of diversity to their academic missions.

The president and chancellors of the University of California system also submitted a brief, in which they state that California’s prohibition of race-conscious admissions should be avoided on a national level. “To fulfill their role of preparing successive generations of citizens to succeed in an increasingly diverse Nation, universities must retain the ability to engage in the limited consideration of race contemplated by this Court’s precedents,” the groups says in their brief.

Related: What happens when states ban affirmative action? >

Amicus briefs from 1,241 social scientists and scholars and 1,246 American social science researchers were filed in support of race-conscious admissions, NBC News reports. The groups, led by Asian American scholars, assert that the SFFA’s case “rests on a racial stereotype about Asian Americans as a so-called ‘model minority’” and that the dissolution of affirmative action would harm Asian American students.

Over 80 major companies including Apple, GE, and Starbucks have also filed an amicus brief stating that an end of affirmative action would “undermine businesses’ efforts to build diverse workforces,” according to ABC News.  

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