Supreme Ct. hears race in admissions case

The outcome of the case could affect colleges nationwide, including the U of M.

Cody Nelson

The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing a case Wednesday that could end or change current affirmative action policy.

In particular, the outcome of Fisher v. University of Texas could affect whether race can be used as a factor in admissions decisions at colleges and
universities.

In 2008, Abigail Fisher filed suit against the University of Texas at Austin for denying her admission. Fisher, a 22-year-old white student, claims that the university violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by considering her race as an admission factor.

The university has a top-10 percent plan that admits students of any race graduating from Texas high schools in the top 10 percent of their class. Fisher missed that cutoff and was placed into a group of other students whose admission is decided using other factors.

Fisher v. Texas could overturn the 2003 ruling of Grutter v. Bollinger that upheld the use of affirmative action in the admissions process at the University of Michigan. Beyond higher education, the outcome could have many implications involving current affirmative action policy in the U.S.

At the University of Minnesota, there is no precise definition of affirmative action, Wayne Sigler, former director of admissions, told the Minnesota Daily last spring. However, he said the University has admissions policies in which many of the applicant’s characteristics, including race, are considered.

Last spring, Sigler said the University would be watching the case closely to see if there will be any implications here.

Opening statements began on Wednesday.

The University of Texas says the affirmative action program is necessary to provide the kind of diverse educational experience the high court has previously endorsed. Along with race, the university considers community service, work experience, extracurricular activities, awards and other factors as it seeks to fill out its incoming classes. The bulk of its slots go to students who are admitted based on their high school class rank, regardless of race.

Opponents of the program say the university is practicing illegal discrimination by considering race at all, especially since the school achieves significant diversity through its race-blind admissions.

The court’s conservatives cast doubt on the program that uses race as one among many factors in admitting about a quarter of the university’s incoming freshmen. The liberal justices appeared more supportive of the effort.

As hearings began Monday, many activists rallied outside the Supreme Court for affirmative action.

Debo P. Adegbile, spokesman for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, spoke at the rally.

“As the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, we should leave pathways to opportunity visibly open to everyone in our country,” he said, according to a news release. “Colleges will be less diverse if race can’t be considered on applications,”

A decision is expected by late June.

 

-The Associated Press

contributed to this report.