Supreme Court Revisits Affirmative Action

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether affirmative action can be a factor in college admissions, after announcing that it is about to consider a case involving the University of Texas at Austin — a school that said it based its admissions policy on an earlier ruling about racial diversity in higher education, writes Robert Barnes at the Washington Post.

The court is set to rehear a white student’s claims that she missed out on a place at the University of Texas because of the university’s race-conscious admissions policy, after it was ruled nine years ago that school administrators were able to take race into account as one of many factors in considering applicants.

Critics of the policy hope that the current court will eradicate affirmative action, or further restrict its use. The current court is considerably more conservative than the one that made the 2003 decision, and Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, which is representing Abigail Noel Fisher, the student rejected by UT, said:

The case “presents the court with an opportunity to clarify the boundaries of race preferences in higher education or even reconsider whether race should be permitted at all under the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.”

However, university of Texas President Bill Powers said:

“We must have the flexibility to consider each applicant’s unique experiences and background so we can provide the best environment in which to educate and train the students who will be our nation’s future leaders.”

Yet, a broad ruling in favor of the student, Abigail Fisher, could threaten affirmative action programs at many of the nation’s public and private universities, writes Pete Williams at NBC News.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law scholar and dean of the University of California Irvine’s law school, has called the Fisher case “potentially momentous.”

Pacific Legal Foundation urged the Supreme Court to take the case in a friend-of-the-court brief, and called the announcement “good news for everyone who believes in equal rights and equal opportunities.”

PLF attorney Joshua P. Thompson said:

“Using race in admissions decisions, to achieve diversity, amounts to stereotyping people by their race.

“In the real world, shared skin color does not automatically translate into shared backgrounds or beliefs.  Racial diversity in a student body does not guarantee a diversity of experience and perspectives.  It is unrealistic and wrong to try to pigeon-hole people by their race.”

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit upheld the Texas plan, but a number of high-profile conservative judges from the circuit loudly objected and urged the high court to consider the case, writes Barnes.

After the 2003 decision, Fisher enrolled at Louisiana State University and is set to graduate this year.