The 2022-2023 Term of the Supreme Court illustrates how important the Court has become to health-related matters, including decisions regarding the selection and training of new professionals, the daily practice of medicine, and the future availability of new drugs. The importance of several cases is reinforced by the fact that major medical organizations filed amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs in those cases.
Amicus briefs are filed by individuals or organizations with something significant to say about a case to the court—most often to present a point of view, make an argument, or provide information that the parties to the case may not have communicated. Amicus briefs are burdensome in terms of the time, energy, and cost of preparing and filing. Thus, they are not undertaken lightly. Medical organizations submitted amicus briefs in the first 3 cases we consider.
Admissions, race, and diversity
The case: Students for Fair Admissions v President and Fellows of Harvard College
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) joined an amici curiae brief in Students for Fair Admissions v President and Fellows of Harvard College (and the University of North Carolina [UNC]).1 This case challenged the use of racial preferences in college admissions. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) was the lead organization; nearly 40 other health-related organizations joined the brief.
The legal claim. Those filing the suits asserted that racial preferences by public colleges violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause (“no state shall deny to any person … the equal protection of the law”). That is, if a state university gives racial preferences in selective admissions, it denies some other applicant the equal protection of the law. As for private schools (in this case, Harvard), Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has the same standards as the Equal Protection Clause. Thus, the Court consolidated the cases and used the same legal standard in considering public and private colleges (with “colleges” including professional and graduate programs as well as undergraduate institutions).
Background. For nearly 50 years, the Supreme Court has allowed limited racial preferences in college admissions. Those preferences could only operate as a plus, however, and not a negative for applicants and be narrowly tailored. The measure was instituted temporarily; in a 2003 case, the Court said, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary.”2
Decision. In a 6-3 decision, the Court held (in the UNC case) that racial preferences generally violate the Constitution, and by a 6-2 decision (in the Harvard case) these preferences violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Justice Jackson was recused in the Harvard case because of a conflict.) The opinion covered 237 pages in the US Reports, so any summary is incomplete.
The majority concluded, “The Harvard and UNC admissions programs cannot be reconciled with the guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause. Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today.”3
There were 3 concurring opinions and 2 dissents in the case. The concurrences reviewed the history of the Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act, the damage racial preferences can do, and the explicit limits the Court said there must be on racial preferences in higher education. The dissents had a different view of the legal history of the 14th Amendment. They said the majority was turning a blind eye to segregation in society and the race-based gap in America.
As a practical matter, this case means that colleges, including professional schools, cannot use racial preferences. The Court said that universities may consider essays and the like in which applicants describe how their own experiences as an individual (including race) have affected their own lives. However, the Court cautioned that “universities may not simply establish through application essays or other means the regime we hold unlawful today.”3
Continue to: The amici brief...