Byline: Doug Gross, Times-Union staff writer
ATLANTA -- Federal appeals court judges questioned University of Georgia lawyers yesterday about whether affirmative action policies at the school amounted to illegal discrimination against whites.
The university, where minority enrollment remains drastically lower than the state's minority population, is seeking to overturn a federal judge's July ruling that the now-suspended policy, which awarded bonus points to some non-white applicants, was unconstitutional. A three-member panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will issue a ruling for the court.
"It could be decisive between two different candidates, could it not?" Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr., one of the three judges on the panel, asked University System attorney Mark Cohen. "All things being equal, a black candidate would be treated differently."
Cohen acknowledged as much, but he said that a black candidate would lose out to an otherwise equally qualified white candidate with two of 12 factors the school considered -- for example, a rural resident whose parents had attended UGa.
In arguments that focused largely on the fine points of the law and prior federal admissions cases, Cohen told judges that about 85 percent of UGa's freshmen are admitted based purely on academics. The other 15 percent are judged in part on the 12 additional factors.
In 1999, Cohen said, 45 minority candidates probably got into the university because their race was considered.
"Diversity in higher education is a compelling state interest," Cohen said. "University of Georgia's admissions plan was narrowly tailored to meet that interest. …