Photo: Affirmative Action Case to Supreme Court
Abigail Fisher was one of the more than 17,000 high-school seniors from around the country who were rejected when they applied to the University of Texas in 2008. In an argument to be heard next week by the U.S. Supreme Court, Fisher argues the university turned her down because she is white.
If the Supreme Court agrees with Fisher, it could spell the end to affirmative action programs across the country that provide some advantage to applicants from underrepresented minorities. At issue is whether Fisher’s “equal protection” under the 14th amendment was violated by the university’s consideration of the race of some of its applicants. Courts so far have found that it wasn’t, as both the 5th Circuit district and appeals courts ruled in favor of the University of Texas.
The majority of students at Texas’s flagship university got in through the state’s top 10 percent plan, under which students are automatically admitted, irrespective of race, if they graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class. The policy has diversified the university because many Texas high schools are mostly black or Hispanic, but the university says that relying solely on high school academic rank is too restrictive.
“The students who are not automatically admitted bring tremendous talents, they can be somebody who’s student body president, stumbled a little bit academically sophomore year, but won the state math contest.” says Bill Powers, the university’s president. “We want that group of students to be ethnically diverse, as well.”
Fisher, from a wealthy Houston suburb, did not rank in the top tenth of her class but sought admission through the university’s “holistic review” process, which considers academic and personal characteristics, one of which is race, in determining admissions for the rest of the class.
The Supreme Court last ruled on affirmative action in 2003. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the court upheld the admissions policies of the University of Michigan Law School, approved “narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”