US Supreme Court upholds race-based college admissions program

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

Why the U.S. Still Needs Affirmative Action

WASHINGTON, June 23 (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 bring racial and ethnic diversity to campus.

RELATED: Abigail Fisher affirmative action cases

9 PHOTOS
Abigail Fisher Affirmative action cases
See Gallery
Abigail Fisher Affirmative action cases
Abigail Fisher, who challenged the use of race in college admissions, joined by lawyer Edward Blum, right, speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, following oral arguments in the Supreme Court in a case that could cut back on or even eliminate affirmative action in higher education. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Attorney Bert Rein (L), speaks to the media while standing with plaintiff Abigail Noel Fisher (R), after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in her caseon October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. The high court heard oral arguments on Fisher V. University of Texas at Austin and are tasked with ruling on whether the university's consideration of race in admissions is constitutional. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
University of Texas at Austin President Gregory L. Fenves speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, following oral arguments in the Supreme Court in a case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, that could cut back on or even eliminate affirmative action in higher education. Second from right is attorney Gregory Garre who argued on behalf of the university. The case revolves around Abigail Fisher, who challenged the use of race in college admissions. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite).
Abigail Fisher, who challenged the use of race in college admissions, walks with lawyers Edward Blum, left, and Bert Rein, rear, outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, following oral arguments in the Supreme Court in a case that could cut back on or even eliminate affirmative action in higher education. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2012 file photo, Abigail Fisher, the Texan involved in the University of Texas affirmative action case, accompanied by her attorney Bert Rein, talks to reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington. Consideration of race in college admissions is again in line of fire at the Supreme Court Wednesday, for the second time in three years, in the case of a white Texas woman who was rejected for admission at the University of Texas. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Abigail Fisher, second from right, who sued the University of Texas when she was not offered a spot at the university's flagship Austin campus in 2008, with Edward Blum, second from left, of the Project on Fair Representation, and parents Richard and Rosalie Fisher, speaks at a news conference in Washington, Monday, June 24, 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in higher education will have "no impact" on the University of Texas' admissions policy, school president Bill Powers said Monday, noting UT will continue to use race as a factor in some cases. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Abigail Fisher, who challenged the use of race in college admissions, listens as her lawyer Bert Rein, center, speaks with reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, following oral arguments in the Supreme Court in a case that could cut back on or even eliminate affirmative action in higher education. At far right is attorney Edward Blum. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Plaintiff Abigail Noel Fisher speaks to the media after U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in her case on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. The high court heard oral arguments on Fisher V. University of Texas at Austin and are tasked with ruling on whether the university's consideration of race in admissions is constitutional. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

The Supreme Court was weighing for the second time a challenge to the affirmative actionadmissions 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.

Fisher said the university denied her admission in favor of lesser-qualified black and Hispanic applicants. She maintained that the program violated the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Kennedy, a conservative who was joined by three of the court's liberals, said that "considerable deference" is owed to universities when they are seeking to determine student diversity. 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.

The university has disputed whether Fisher would have gained admission under any circumstances.

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 dispute.

"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.

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.

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.

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 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 preferences."

"For instance, how will a court ever be able to determine whether stereotypes have adequately been destroyed? Or whether cross-racial understanding has been adequately achieved?" Alito asked. Joining him in dissent were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas.

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. Fisher has said she has stayed in the case to help others in similar positions.

"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 court precedent that first allowed affirmative action, with new lawsuits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina. The court's majority on Thursday suggested no interest in upsetting that precedent.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Will Dunham)

RELATED:

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners