(Bloomberg) — Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Meta Platforms Inc. and Apple Inc. are among nearly 70 companies filing a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of affirmative action programs established at Harvard and the University of North Carolina to be challenged.
The brief, filed Monday, argues that corporate diversity, equity and inclusion efforts “depend on university admissions programs that result in graduates being educated in racially and ethnically diverse environments.”
“Only in this way can America produce a pipeline of highly skilled future workers and business leaders ready to meet the needs of the modern economy and workforce,” the letter reads. The cases are the first affirmative action cases to come before the judges since the Conservatives won a 6-3 majority.
A separate brief, filed by tech companies, is also expected on Monday.
About as many companies have signed the amicus, or friend of the court, filing a positive lawsuit is a business imperative, as in a 2003 case involving the University of Michigan Law School. Less joined similar efforts in two more recent cases involving the University of Texas at Austin.
This time, however, companies risk igniting a conservative backlash against companies taking progressive positions.
Diversity, equity and inclusion advocates say making your voice heard is still important for the business community.
“This is the perfect time for the corporate world to not just sit by the sideline,” said Lael Chappell, director of insurance sales at Coalition, Inc., which focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion issues.
In the latest cases Students for Fair Admissions vs. Harvard and Students for Fair Admissions vs. University of North Carolinathe plaintiffs say affirmative action not only harms white applicants, but also amounts to “anti-Asian punishment.”
UNC responds that race is just one of “dozens of factors” the school “can consider as it brings together a class that is diverse on numerous dimensions — including geography, military status, and socioeconomic background.”
“Empirical studies confirm that different groups make better decisions thanks to increased creativity, sharing of ideas and accuracy,” say the companies in favor of the universities.
“These benefits are not simply immaterial; they are reflected in corporate profits,” they said.
And the increasingly global nature of business makes diversity even more important today than it was in the past, the companies argued.
Still, the environment has changed significantly in the six years since the Supreme Court last ruled in an affirmative case.
Shareholders are pushing companies to disclose racial and gender workforce data, said Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute, a research group for institutional investors. A new, separate push focuses on publishing racial justice commitments, she said.
Weighing politically controversial issues also introduces new risks, as stakeholders like employees and lawmakers push companies in different directions, the Conference Board research group warned in a May 2022 report.
Risks became apparent this year when Walt Disney Co. criticized a Florida law that limits what teachers and administrators can discuss with young students about sexual orientation after intense pressure from employees.
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he viewed Disney’s public statements against the law as a “provocation” and vowed to “fight back.” Weeks later, Florida lawmakers stripped the entertainment giant of its decades-old special tax status.
Recently, Sidley Austin received a letter from a group of Texas state lawmakers threatening to sue the global law firm’s partnership and face criminal liability after it announced it would cover travel expenses for employees who Request abortions in states that ban them. The Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion in June.
“There are so many moving parts,” Chappell said. “Of course you hope for the best. They want to see a world where these things are truly valued for the impact they can really have. But it is definitely a time of uncertainty.”