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High court splits affirmative action cases, allowing Jackson to weigh in

The court’s newest member will hear one of two affirmative action cases next term.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court announced Friday it would no longer be consolidating two challenges to affirmative action set to be a blockbuster case next term. The justices will instead hear the challenges separately. 

The change is presumably so that the court’s newest member can participate in one of the cases. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has longstanding ties to Harvard University — one of the colleges at the center of the dispute. Friday’s announcement said Jackson was not involved in the consideration of the Harvard case but did not exclude her from the North Carolina challenge. 

Jackson’s potential recusal in one of the leading cases in the term garnered attention during her confirmation hearings. She not only attended Harvard for undergrad and law school, but has also served on the university’s Board of Overseers since 2016. It was not clear that Jackson would have had any direct influence over affirmative action policies during her tenure but some experts had said it was easy to assume she could have at some influence at some point. Jackson indicated she would recuse during her Senate confirmation hearings. 

The court agreed to hear the challenges to the consideration of race in higher education admissions in January. The case against Harvard claims the university’s affirmative action policies discriminated against Asian American students. At the University of North Carolina — the case Jackson will sit for — students claim policies discriminated against Asian American and white students by favoring Black, Hispanic and Native American students' applications. 

While the high court upheld the policies as recently as 2016, the cases give the conservative supermajority a chance to relook at the programs with the possibility of rolling them back.  

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