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Category: University News

Title: Georgetown Leads Catholic Colleges and Universities To File Supreme Court Brief Supporting Affirmative Action

The two cases, which the Supreme Court will hear this fall, challenge the admissions policies and procedures at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina and call for the court to overturn the right of higher education institutions to consider race as a factor in college admissions.

Georgetown’s joint effort with Catholic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, the College of the Holy Cross, DePaul University and Villanova University, affirms that the right to consider racial diversity in a holistic admissions process to build a diverse student body and learning environment is essential to their academic and religious missions. Achieving racial diversity in admissions, the brief asserts, is “inextricably intertwined” with Catholic universities and colleges’ religious foundations.

The brief also argues that this right is rooted in the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise Clause, particularly for Catholic higher education institutions, whose ability to have discretion in how they choose students is critical to their religious missions. 

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,” says Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “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.”

Georgetown has a long history of supporting affirmative action in university admissions dating back to 2003, when it submitted an amicus brief for Grutter v. Bollinger, the landmark ruling that upheld the race conscious admissions program at the University of Michigan Law School, and again for Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which affirmed the legality of the University of Texas admissions policies in 2016.

The Cases

For more than 40 years, the Supreme Court has upheld that race can be considered a factor in college admissions, most recently at the University of Texas at Austin in 2016.

In 2014, the Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a group begun by Edward Blum, a legal strategist who has challenged affirmative action policies over the years, sued Harvard University for discriminatory admissions policies. The District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit have both upheld Harvard’s admissions policies.

SFFA sued the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) the same year. A District Court has since ruled in favor of UNC’s admissions policies in 2021.

Both cases will be heard separately this fall. The repercussions could ripple far beyond Harvard and UNC and impact affirmative action admissions policies nationwide. 

Georgetown’s Amicus Brief

In the run-up to the two Supreme Court hearings, Georgetown partnered with a group of Catholic colleges and universities to reinforce their collective commitment to building diverse student communities and learning environments that advance their Catholic missions and values. 

“We are 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,” said Bisi Okubadejo, associate vice president of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Compliance. “It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s critical to our Catholic, Jesuit mission.”

“We are 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. It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s critical to our Catholic, Jesuit mission.”

Bisi Okubadejo, associate vice president of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Compliance

Similar to many secular colleges and universities, Catholic colleges and universities may consider race and ethnicity as one factor in a holistic, individualized review of student applications, the brief states, including their academic and extracurricular achievements, geographic, cultural and religious backgrounds, socioeconomic status and racial and ethnic identities.  

This consideration, the brief emphasizes, offers educational opportunities to talented students from underrepresented communities, helps expose students to diverse backgrounds in their class and produces diverse classes of graduates who can advance Catholic values and ideals.

Advancing Academic and Religious Missions

 The brief outlines the substantial impact undergraduates and graduates of Catholic colleges — who number more than 850,000 — play in the world both in government, business, education, nonprofits and in a commitment to community service and the common good.

To help train future leaders dedicated to the common good, the brief states, Catholic colleges and universities seek to create diverse, inclusive learning environments that “foster exposure to new ways of thinking and perspectives on the world — in classrooms, over meals, on athletic fields, after rehearsals, and in campus faith groups and other student communities. As a crucial component of their efforts, Catholic colleges and universities strive to admit and educate racially diverse student bodies.”

“Creating equitable, inclusive and diverse communities that enhance our learning environments, is foundational to our commitment to academic excellence and to our identity as a Catholic, Jesuit university,” says Rosemary Kilkenny, vice president for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Chief Diversity Officer. “It’s important for us as Catholic higher education institutions to reinforce together how crucial racially diverse admissions and resulting classrooms are to our continuing missions.”

The brief also underscored that this commitment to student body diversity is not only an academic mission but a core Catholic belief and teaching.

“The education that students receive in a diverse environment fosters the Catholic values of universal human dignity and respect for divine creation, and in turn creates alumni equipped to contribute to the Catholic goals of leadership in service,” the brief states.

Constitutional Principles

In its closing, the brief notes that racially diverse admissions are grounded in the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which has long protected religious institutions’ decisions related to educating students.

Retaining the academic judgment and discretion to choose their class fulfills their religious missions, the brief states.

Amici’s foundational Catholic values and teachings inform their commitment to give value to the identity of the whole person in admissions and to compose a student body that will, after graduation, promote the Catholic mission of the common good and service to others, especially the poor and underserved,” the brief states. “Georgetown’s mission is to educate ‘women and men to be reflective lifelong learners, to be responsible and active participants in civic life and to live generously in service to others. Including a broad spectrum of students from diverse racial and ethnic identities, advances not only the pedagogical but also the spiritual goals of Catholic institutions.”

The Supreme Court is expected to hear both cases after their term begins in October.