The part-time Mainer behind two lawsuits challenging race-based college admission standards said he’s relieved that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear the cases that seek to end affirmative action in higher education.

Edward Blum Courtesy Photo

Edward Blum, president of Students for Fair Admissions and a South Thomaston resident for half the year, said getting the cases before the court caps a long legal struggle. Arguments in the two lawsuits, filed by Blum’s organization on the same day in 2014, are expected to be heard by the court in the fall.

A third suit filed by the group, challenging the use of race in admissions to the University of Texas, reached the Supreme Court in 2016 and was rejected on a 4-3 vote.

The conservative-dominated high court on Monday agreed to hear the group’s other challenges to the consideration of race in college admissions, adding another blockbuster issue to a term that already has abortion, guns, religion and COVID-19 on the agenda.

The court said it will take up the lawsuits, which claim that Harvard University, a private institution, and the University of North Carolina, a state school, discriminate against Asian American applicants. A decision against the schools could mean the end of affirmative action in college admissions.

Lower courts rejected the challenges, citing more than 40 years of high court rulings that allow colleges and universities to consider race in admissions decisions. But the colleges and universities must do so in a narrowly tailored way to promote diversity.

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The court’s 4-3 decision in the 2016 case upheld the admissions program at the University of Texas against a challenge brought by a white woman. But the composition of the court has changed since then with the addition of three conservative justices who were appointed by former President Donald Trump.

Two members of the four-justice majority in the 2016 case are gone from the court: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in 2020, and Justice Anthony Kennedy retired in 2018.

The three dissenters in that case, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, remain on the court. Roberts, a moderating influence on some issues, has been a steadfast vote to limit the use of race in public programs, once writing, “It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.”

The Trump administration backed Students for Fair Admissions’ suit against Harvard, while the Biden administration urged the Supreme Court not to take the case.

A lower federal court had upheld North Carolina’s admissions process in October, saying its consideration of race was narrowly designed to produce a diverse student body. Blum’s organization filed an appeal before the Supreme Court and bundled the Harvard case with it, arguing that the court could rule on the role of race in admissions policies for both public and private universities at the same time.

In the Harvard case, Blum’s group argues that Harvard is imposing penalties on Asian-American applicants while at the same time offering “massive preferences” to Black and Hispanic applicants. Harvard has said it limits racial considerations to those that would support a diverse student body, in line with previous court rulings that upheld affirmative action programs for that aim.

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North Carolina won its case at the lower court level on that basis.

Patrick Strawbridge

Having the court agree to review that ruling “is an important milestone that has been reached,” Blum said Monday after the court said it would hear the cases.

Blum said he’s aware that there could be one of three outcomes: His organization could lose, the court could rule narrowly against the two universities with limited impact beyond them, or it could rule that all colleges should be barred from using race as a factor in admissions, ending affirmative action in higher education.

STRAWBRIDGE ON LEGAL TEAM

Blum declined to predict how the Trump appointees might alter the court’s vote from its decision in the University of Texas case, saying it’s “foolish” to try to forecast how the justices might decide a case.

Blum is not a lawyer and won’t play a role in the Supreme Court hearing, but he said Maine native Patrick Strawbridge is part of the legal team representing his group in the Harvard case. He said it is unlikely that Strawbridge will argue before the court, but he will be one of the lawyers at the hearing.

Strawbridge, of North Yarmouth, represented Trump before the Supreme Court in 2020, arguing that the president wasn’t required to turn over his tax records to a U.S. House committee and the Manhattan district attorney, whose office was investigating Trump’s business operations. Trump lost that case.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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