UNC to Pay $4.8 Million to Group That Sued Over Affirmative Action

UNC has agreed to pay $4.8 million to cover the fees and expenses that Students for Fair Admissions incurred during its lawsuit against Carolina and Harvard University over their consideration of race in student admissions.

The suit reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June ruled the consideration of race in admissions violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. The vote was 6–3.

UNC will pay $3.9 million to cover the group’s fees and $900,000 in expenses, according to details released by UNC in response to a public records request by Reuters. The Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Award Act of 1976 gives courts the authority and discretion to award reasonable attorneys’ fees to plaintiffs who prevail in civil rights cases.

Students for Fair Admissions, led by activist lawyer Edward Blum, brought two cases in 2014 against UNC and Harvard asking courts to review the Supreme Court’s previous affirmative action rulings. (See “Vision/Revision,” September/October 2023 Review.)

Blum has pursued legal action against universities, challenging admissions practices that consider race. Students for Fair Admissions accused UNC of showing bias against white and Asian American applicants, alleging unlawful preferential treatment for underrepresented Black and Hispanic applicants. Judges ruled in 2014 against SFFA, prompting the group to appeal.

Tax filings reveal that Students for Fair Admissions spent nearly $8 million on legal expenses since 2015, with the majority allocated to its primary law firm, Consovoy McCarthy, based in Arlington, Virginia, according to Reuters. Blum highlighted in a statement to Reuters that UNC and Harvard each spent tens of millions of dollars on their cases.

Harvard also resolved a fees request from SFAA. The financial terms were not disclosed.

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