What the upcoming Supreme Court’s affirmative action decisions could mean for funders and nonprofits

The Supreme Court is again examining whether universities may consider race when trying to build diverse student bodies, reviewing admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. (Eric Lee for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected soon to issue landmark decisions in two cases related to affirmative action in higher education. The cases — Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina — challenge the constitutionality of using race as a consideration in university admissions. The impact of the decisions, however, could reach far beyond higher education and have implications for the use of race in many other contexts, including much of the work of philanthropy and civil society.

To better inform ourselves and partners committed to advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, the Hewlett Foundation commissioned a paper by Munger, Tolles, and Olson, which has one of the nation’s leading Supreme Court practices. The paper does not constitute legal advice to Hewlett or other organizations. Rather, it outlines possible ramifications of the decisions for nonprofit organizations.

These Supreme Court cases mark the culmination of a 40-year campaign by the conservative legal movement to dismantle efforts to redress racial and other historical inequities. As the paper explains, a best-case scenario, involving narrowly drawn decisions, will still impact many or most organizations seeking to advance equity and justice. Other possibilities are more ominous, and the worst-case scenario could entail a massive rollback that would not only curtail efforts to address racial injustice, but also gender equity and more.

As an organization seeking to build a world in which everyone has a genuine opportunity to thrive, we will remain committed to the pursuit of equity and justice. Our hope is that this paper helps charitable organizations like ours to prepare and effectively respond as we continue to pursue that mission.

Read the paper

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