Recently, all eyes were on the Supreme Court where they were looking into one of the biggest affirmative action cases in a decade. The suit was that of Abigail Fisher, a woman who was denied admission to the University of Texas (UT) at Austin in 2008. Ms. Fisher’s lawyers claim that Ms. Fisher, who is white, suffered unjustly by having to compete against African American and Hispanic applicants in a system that considers race. The case revolves around the question, should the inclusion of race in its admissions process be unlawful? This case can have implications for nearly every campus in the country, public and private.
There is a passage in the University of Texas brief that said the university may wish to give a preference to a black student with professional parents and from a good Dallas area high school over a black or Latino student who earned top grades at an “overwhelmingly” black or Latino high school.
The Supreme Court’s conservative justices seemed inclined to strike down the UT affirmative action plan, but did not make a direct decision either way. Noted in his opening question Chief Justice John G. Roberts stated that applicants to the University of Texas must check a box to certify their race or ethnicity. He went on asking what qualifies as a minority. Does a student who is one-fourth Hispanic qualify, or what about one-eighth. What Roberts made clear was that he is troubled by the use of race as a deciding factor in public policies.
There is a law that was adopted by the Texas Legislature, “top 10%,” which states that the university must admit the tip graduates from all of its high schools. Since then, there has been a steady rise in the percentage of Latino and black students. But in 2004, the university adopted a new affirmative action policy and seeks out qualified minority students who did not graduate in the top 10 % of their high schools.
Justice Samuel Alito was surprised to learn that UT seeks black and Latino students who grew up in affluent families. He said he assumed that the design of affirmative action was to give preference to students from “underprivileged backgrounds.” He could not understand the university’s reasoning to give a preference to a minority student from a wealthy family over a white or Asian student with good grades and test scores but who came from a middle-class family.
Arguments from Gregory Garre, the Washington attorney for the University of Texas, included that minority students from an integrated suburban high school could contribute more to the diversity on campus. While Justice Anthony M. Kennedy countered by stating, “You are saying what counts is race above all else.”
Abigail Fisher’s attorney, Bert Rein, mentioned that there was no need for a race-based affirmative action policy since about one-fourth of its new students are Latino or black which stems back to the “top 10 %” law. He continued by stating that using race as an admission criteria “should have been a last resort, not a first resort.” He argued that since UT has achieved considerable diversity on campus, it does not need to adopt an extra affirmative action policy.
This will be a big decision and it will probably be several months before the court hands down an opinion in the Fisher vs. University of Texas case. Deciding on it will be eight justices and three liberal justices even spent some of the time arguing to throw out the Fisher’s case since she has already graduated from Louisiana State University.
This will be a very interesting case to follow, since it has the potential to affect schools across the country.