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Oct. 3, 2022, 10:47 a.m. EDT

Supreme Court’s new term starts Monday — watch for crucial rulings on affirmative action, LGBTQ rights, election laws

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By Morgan Marietta

Following a  dramatic year of controversial rulings , the Supreme Court began hearing new cases on Monday with a full agenda.

The court  overturned abortion rights  and  expanded gun rights  in June as the  new conservative supermajority  began to exert its influence.

Some of the court’s most important upcoming cases focus on the  future of affirmative actionequal treatment of LGBTQ people , and the  control of election laws . The court will hear the cases in the fall and then likely issue rulings in spring 2023.

As a  close observer of the courtI think  this term’s rulings will continue to reject the court’s previous liberal decisions and instead reflect a conservative interpretation of the historical meaning of the Constitution. At least three of those upcoming rulings are likely to profoundly influence people’s everyday lives in the United States.

Affirmative action

College admissions and scholarships can alter the trajectory of a life.

College administrators want diverse student populations but are less clear about which categories – including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity and wealth – should influence admission and financial aid decisions. When it comes down to the specifics of which people are underrepresented in higher education, and which are overrepresented, the questions become thorny.

Many different groups feel that they are being mistreated when their specific circumstances and histories are taken into account.

The Supreme Court  will hear two lawsuits  on Oct. 31 brought by the anti-affirmative action organization  Students for Fair Admissions . This group argues that Harvard and other schools blatantly discriminate against Asian students. But the claim is a proxy for all other preferences grounded in identity, including those in favor of Black applicants and those disadvantaging whites.

The two cases – one against  Harvard  and the other against the  University of North Carolina —address private as well as public institutions.

Nine states currently have laws  that ban  affirmative action in college admissions. The extent and focus of existing  diversity policies vary widely .

Universities justifying their diversity policies argue that the  14th Amendment  and its guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” encourage giving an advantage to historically oppressed groups.

The opponents of affirmative action argue that the 14th Amendment was  meant to uphold racial neutrality , meaning all individuals should be treated the same, regardless of race. In this view, the Constitution forbids considering race in almost any decisions that influence individual advancement.

The core conflict is whether the  equal protection clause  protects  equality or equity .

If is it equality – the same treatment of all races, regardless – this supports the argument that universities may not give preferences to applicants of one race over another.

If the 14th Amendment is found to guarantee equity – or trying to create equal outcomes for all by favoring historically disadvantaged groups – this supports the argument that affirmative action policies are constitutionally sound, and perhaps even required in public institutions.

The current court, with a conservative majority, almost certainly favors the argument that the equal protection clause endorses equality, not equity.

In a  2007 ruling on public high schools , for example, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating  on the basis of race .”

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