NAICU Washington Update

Supreme Court Takes Action in Two Important Higher Education Cases

January 28, 2022

The Supreme Court will once again take up affirmative action in a case involving admissions at Harvard University. The move could give the new conservative majority on the Court a chance to overturn long-standing precedents on affirmative action that have narrowly permitted race-conscious admissions programs in higher education. 

The Harvard lawsuit began in 2014, when Students for Fair Admissions, an advocacy group that opposes affirmative action, sued the university, claiming its admissions program unlawfully discriminates on the basis of race, particularly with respect to Asian American students. After a highly publicized trial, a federal district court ruled in favor of Harvard, a decision that was subsequently upheld by an appellate court. 

The Harvard case has been consolidated with a challenge against a similar program at the University of North Carolina. The Court will hear the case during its 2022-23 term. NAICU is likely to join an amicus brief in support of Harvard when the case is under review. NAICU joined a similar brief at the appellate level. 

In other Supreme Court news, the Court this week issued a decision in a case that affects institutional liability regarding management of employee retirement plans. In Hughes v. Northwestern University, the Court ruled that courts must conduct a context-specific inquiry into allegations of a breach of fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The Court’s decision, which vacated and remanded the lower courts’ dismissal of the case, will make it more difficult and expensive for colleges and universities to defend against such claims. 

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