Attorney General James Joins Multistate Supreme Court Brief Supporting Race-Conscious College Admissions Programs

Case before the U.S. Supreme Court Could Have Major Ramifications for College and University Admissions Processes

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general in filing a multistate amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a request to overturn more than four decades of precedent allowing higher education institutions to consider race or ethnicity as part of holistic admissions processes to promote diversity in learning environments. The brief, filed in the cases Students For Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students For Fair Admissions, Inc v. University of North Carolina, urges the court to reaffirm its prior rulings that found a holistic race-conscious admissions policy is constitutional and helps promote the educational benefits of diversity.

“Diversity is one of our great strengths, as New Yorkers and as Americans,” said Attorney General James. “Efforts to undo the strides we’ve made in encouraging greater diversity in our educational institutions must be confronted with all of our might. Diversity at higher educational institutions leads to a more diverse workforce and a stronger, more prosperous, more equitable society. I am proud to join with attorneys general from throughout the nation to stand up for educational opportunities for all students, especially those from traditionally under-represented communities.”

According to the brief, the benefits of diversity in higher education have become more critical to states when graduates join the workforce, participate in civic life and take on leadership roles. The brief describes how diversity in the health care workforce improves health outcomes and access for all residents — particularly for those in medically-underserved communities. Additionally, increasing the diversity of primary school educators improves the academic performance of public school students and college attendance rates. The states also argue that the businesses that fuel their economies rely on a diverse pipeline of graduates who have the potential to bring differing perspectives to leadership positions in their fields.  

The brief highlights disparities that reversing this precedent will exacerbate. For example, while Black Americans make up nearly 13 percent of the country’s population, as recently as 2018, only 5.4 percent of physicians are Black, and, according to the brief, prohibiting medical schools from implementing a race-conscious admissions program could further exacerbate these disparities. In fact, the brief points out that medical schools in states that have bans on race-conscious admissions programs have seen a 37 percent decrease in enrollment from historically underrepresented communities.  

The brief also describes how, nationally, nearly 80 percent of educators are white and non-Hispanic, but 54 percent of students in public primary and secondary schools were students of color in 2020. Given these disparities, the growing diversity in our country, and the educational benefits of a diverse teaching workforce, states need every option available to increase the diversity of educators. Removing the possibility of using holistic race-conscious admissions where necessary will be detrimental to future generations of students.  

Finally, the states describe how achieving meaningful student-body diversity while altogether excluding any consideration of race has proven challenging in states with bans on race-conscious admissions, particularly at selective institutions that produce so many of the states’ civic, professional, and business leaders. Accordingly, the states argue, institutions of higher education continue to require the flexibility, where necessary, to use the kind of holistic race-conscious admissions policies that the Supreme Court has approved for decades.   

Joining Attorney General James in filing today’s brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Washington.