Supreme Court may overturn race-based school admissions: Here’s what you need to know

Affirmative action will be thrust into the spotlight next week as the Supreme Court prepares to hear two cases: Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina.

A ruling on the two cases by the conservative court could reverse 40 years of precedent of race-conscious admissions to colleges and universities.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is affirmative action?

Affirmative action broadly refers to policies that favor individuals who have been subject to previous discrimination.

At the nation’s universities, it has been used to diversify enrollment, often in schools that historically turned away minority students.

A landmark case came in 1978 when the Supreme Court considered Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

Allan Bakke, a white man, applied to the University California, Davis’s medical school. His application was rejected because of the school’s racial quota system: out of 100 spots, 16 were reserved for racial minorities.

Bakke sued the school, arguing that the racial quota system was unconstitutional and a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While the court determined UC-Davis’s quota did, in fact, violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act, it also ruled that diversity in university admissions was a “constitutionally permissible goal.”

Since then, schools have used race as an ingredient in selecting their student bodies.

Groups backing Harvard and UNC in the cases