Supreme Court upholds race-based college
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[June 24, 2016]
By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme
Court on Thursday upheld the consideration of race in college
admissions, rejecting a white woman's challenge to a University of Texas
program designed to boost the enrollment of minority students.
The court, in a 4-3 ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy,
decided in favor of the university and turned aside the conservative
challenge to a policy intended to foster racial and ethnic diversity
The ruling ended an eight-year legal challenge to the affirmative
action admissions system used by the University of Texas at Austin
brought by Abigail Fisher, who was denied a place in 2008.
Affirmative action is a policy under which racial minorities
historically subject to discrimination are given certain preferences
in education and employment. Instead of a retreat on affirmative
action that Fisher and her conservative backers had sought, the
court endorsed race-based admissions for diversity.
Fisher said the university denied her admission in favor of
lesser-qualified black and Hispanic applicants in violation of the
U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Kennedy, a conservative who has previously voted against university
affirmative action, was joined by three of the court's liberals in
the ruling. He said that "it remains an enduring challenge to our
nation's education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with
the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity."
In the Texas case, the challengers had failed to show that the
university could have met its needs with another process, he said.
Kennedy noted that the school "tried and failed to increase
diversity" through other race-neutral means.
University officials contend that having a sizable number of
minorities enrolled exposes students to varied perspectives and
enhances the educational experience for all students.
The justices upheld a 2014 ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals that had endorsed the school's "limited use
of race in its search for holistic diversity."
President Barack Obama's administration backed the university in the
"I'm pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the basic notion that
diversity is an important value in our society and that this country
should provide a high-quality education to all our young people
regardless of their background," Obama said at the White House.
"We are not a country that guarantees equal outcomes, but we do
strive to provide an equal shot to everybody," Obama added.
Civil rights groups hailed the ruling, saying such programs provide
a foundation for achieving equality throughout U.S. society.
Conservatives said the ruling endorsed discrimination based on race.
The university admits most freshmen through a program that
guarantees a place to students in the top 10 percent of their Texas
high school graduating classes. It uses other factors including race
to admit the remainder. Fisher was not in the top 10 percent of her
high school class, and the university disputed whether she would
have gained entry under any circumstance.
The justices had considered Fisher's case in June 2013. But rather
than rule on the program's constitutionality then, they ordered the
appeals court to scrutinize the Texas policy more closely.
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A demonstrator holds a sign aloft as the affirmative action in
university admissions case was being heard at the Supreme Court in
Washington, December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
'THE WIDER WORLD'
The university's president, Gregory Fenves, praised the decision and
said race continues to matter in American life.
"We must make sure all of our students are able to excel in the
wider world when they leave campus - educating them in an
environment as diverse as the United States is one of the most
effective ways to do so," Fenves said.
Writing in dissent, Justice Samuel Alito described the university's
program as "affirmative action gone wild" because of the way it can
benefit minorities from wealthy backgrounds. He said that while the
university’s stated goals are laudable, “they are not concrete or
precise, and they offer no limiting principle for the use of racial
Joining Alito in dissent were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice
Justice Elena Kagan, who was U.S. solicitor general in the Obama
administration when it backed the university in lower-court
litigation, took no part in the decision.
Fisher, now 26, graduated from her second-choice college, Louisiana
State University, and now works as a financial analyst in Austin.
"I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled that students
applying to the University of Texas can be treated differently
because of their race or ethnicity. I hope that the nation will one
day move beyond affirmative action," Fisher said in a statement.
Edward Blum, a conservative activist who engineered Fisher's
challenge, said racial classifications and preferences are among the
most polarizing policies in America today.
"As long as universities like the University of Texas continue to
treat applicants differently by race and ethnicity, the social
fabric that holds us together as a nation will be weakened," added
Blum, president of the Project on Fair Representation.
Blum has separately challenged the 1978 Supreme Court precedent that
first allowed affirmative action, with new lawsuits against Harvard
and the University of North Carolina.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jon
Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham)
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