It was nearly 40 years ago when a fractured U.S. Supreme Court was searching for an acceptable and lawful way to take race and ethnicity into account in college admissions. The court majority viewed as unconstitutional a system that would set aside a specific number of seats for one racial group or another. But justices also wanted to enable colleges to take steps they might deem necessary to attain a racially diverse student body.
How to do that? Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. turned to the nation’s oldest college for answers.
Powell, writing the principal opinion in the 1978 landmark case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, cited the “Harvard College program” as an exemplar of race-conscious admissions because it did not use explicit numerical quotas to achieve diversity.
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