Affirmative Action Kicked Off Busy Week for SCOTUS

The U.S. Supreme Court had a busy week, hearing oral arguments in five cases. The most closely watched cases are Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College and SFFA v. University of North Carolina, which are poised to determine the role of affirmative action in college admissions.

The primary issue in both cases is whether the Court should reverse its decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003). In the 2003 decision, the Court ruled that the University of Michigan Law School’s race-sensitive admissions program was narrowly tailored because the consideration of race was merely one factor in the decision-making process and individualized consideration was given to each applicant. Overruling Grutter would likely ban higher education institutions from considering race as a factor in the admissions process. 

Below is a brief summary of the other cases before the Court:

  • Cruz v. Arizona: In this death penalty case, the justices will decide whether the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling that a state rule of criminal procedure barred the defendant, John Cruz, from obtaining relief is an adequate and independent state-law ground for the judgment against him.
  • Jones v. Hendrix: Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, federal inmates can collaterally challenge their convictions on any ground cognizable on collateral review, with successive attacks limited to certain claims that indicate factual innocence or that rely on constitutional-law decisions made retroactive by the Court. Another provision of the statute, however, also allows inmates to collaterally challenge their convictions outside this process through a traditional habeas action under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 whenever it “appears that the remedy by [§ 2255] motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of [their] detention.” The justices have agreed to consider “[w]hether federal inmates who did not — because established circuit precedent stood firmly against them — challenge their convictions on the ground that the statute of conviction did not criminalize their activity may apply for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C § 2241 after the Supreme Court later makes clear in a retroactively applicable decision that the circuit precedent was wrong and that they are legally innocent of the crime of conviction.
  • Bittner v. United States: The case seeks to resolve a circuit split over the statutory interpretation ofthe Bank Secrecy Act, which generally requires taxpayers to report their interests in foreign bank accounts. The Court must determine “[w]hether a ‘violation’ under the Bank Secrecy Act is the failure to file an annual Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (no matter the number of foreign accounts), or whether there is a separate violation for each individual account that was not properly reported.”

Decisions in all of the cases are expected before the Court’s term ends in June. Please check back for updates.