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Major US companies ask Supreme Court to uphold affirmative action

With tens of thousands of American employees on their payrolls, the companies urge the high court to uphold policies critical to their workforce.

WASHINGTON (CN) — American companies have come to find that diversifying their workforce is not only socially responsible but financially beneficial. However, they are worried they may soon find a roadblock to diversity at the nation's highest court. 

Over 60 major American businesses are asking the Supreme Court not to thwart their success by nixing affirmative action policies used by colleges. Apple, GE, Google, and Intel are just a few of the big names hoping to influence a majority of the nine-justice high court to keep in place the consideration of race in university admissions. 

The companies said increasing diversity within their ranks is not only just the right thing to do, but it also improves their businesses. 

“Amici — some of the largest companies in America — now reiterate to this Court that the government’s interest in promoting student-body diversity on university campuses remains compelling from a business perspective,” the companies said in a joint brief filed at the court on Monday. 

Next term, the Supreme Court will hear two cases challenging affirmative action policies at the University of North Carolina and Harvard College. The court upheld affirmative action policies in 2016, but it’s not clear if the new conservative supermajority will do so this time.

The cases challenge a 2003 precedent known as Grutter v. Bollinger that upheld affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan Law School. However, the companies claim this precedent is more necessary than ever. 

“Attaining a student body that is both highly qualified and broadly diverse remains a compelling constitutional interest,” the brief states. “An essential aspect of that diversity is racial and ethnic diversity. That interest has not faded since this Court decided Grutter in 2003. If anything, it has grown stronger, as Amici know from first-hand experience.” 

Citing a direct talent pipeline from the universities to their workforces, the companies say without affirmative action policies their businesses will suffer. 

“Prohibiting universities nationwide from considering race among other factors in composing student bodies would undermine businesses’ efforts to build diverse workforces,” the brief states. 

Major companies are not the only ones urging the court to side with the universities, as the U.S. government also filed an amicus brief saying the diversity benefits of affirmative action are of vital importance to the country. The government further requested to participate in oral arguments. 

“The United States has a vital interest in ensuring that our Nation’s institutions of higher education — including the military’s service academies — produce graduates who come from all segments of society and who are prepared to succeed and lead in an increasingly diverse Nation,” the government’s brief said.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar cited the late Justice Lewis Powell’s remarks in 1978 that the “nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples.” Prelogar said that is still true today. 

“Our military leaders, for example, have determined that the Nation’s security depends on developing and sustaining a diverse officer corps that is prepared to lead an increasingly diverse fighting force,” she wrote. “The service academies have also concluded that admissions policies like the one this Court approved in Grutter remain essential to achieving that goal.” 

However, the military is not the only sector of government that depends on a diverse educated workforce. Counsel from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Education, Health and Human Services, Commerce and Labor all joined the Department of Justice’s brief. 

“Other federal agencies likewise depend on diversity in our Nation’s universities to recruit highly qualified graduates from all segments of society who are equipped to succeed in diverse environments,” Prelogar wrote. “And the educational benefits of diversity are validated by recent scholarship confirming the academic and civic benefits of racial diversity on university campuses.” 

While originally consolidated, the cases will be heard separately to allow the court’s newest member to weigh in on the decision. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson has longstanding ties to Harvard so she will not have involvement in that decision. The court has not yet announced the dates when these cases will be heard. 

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