The US Supreme Court on Wednesday is set to take up a potential
landmark case examining whether a public university may use race as
a factor to select new students, even after the university has
achieved significant student diversity using race-neutral admissions
The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, embroils the high court
in a contentious debate that divides the country and the Supreme
The case has prompted the filing of 73 friend-of-the-court briefs
from military leaders, major US businesses, 14 states, a group of
senators, civil rights groups, education organizations, and a
collection of basketball coaches all urging the justices to uphold
the use of race in college admissions.
On the other side, 17 friend-of-the-court briefs were filed by an
array of conservative public interest organizations and groups of
At issue is when it is appropriate to use ethnicity or skin color
to boost enrollment by minority students at a highly selective
The University of Texas (UT) at Austin uses a race-neutral
mechanism to select 75 percent of its entering freshman class. The
process yields class-wide minority enrollment of roughly 20 percent,
making it among the most diverse of the nations elite universities.
Nonetheless, admissions officials also rely on a second selection
process to pick the remaining 25 percent of students. That process
includes race as a selection criterion among several other factors.
The question in the case is whether under those circumstances the
University of Texass use of race is justified.
The race-conscious plan is being challenged by a white student,
Abigail Fisher, who claims she was denied admission to Texas so that
African-American and Latino students, who she says were less
qualified, could be admitted.
Ms. Fishers lawyers argue that the school engaged in government-
sponsored racial discrimination in violation of Fishers
constitutional right to equal protection.
UT should not be permitted to employ gratuitous racial
preferences when a race-neutral policy has resulted in over one-
fifth of university entrants being African-American or Hispanic,
Washington lawyer Bert Rein wrote in his brief on behalf of Fisher.
Lawyers for the university deny that school officials engage in
racial discrimination. They say consideration of a students race is
part of a holistic review process that also considers leadership
potential, extracurricular activities, work experience, community
service, and various components of socioeconomic status.
Consideration of race helps admissions officers understand
prospective students in their totality, but race alone does not
decide the final outcome, they say.
"Consistent with the holistic and modest way in which race is
considered, it is impossible to tell whether an applicants race was
a tipping factor for any given admit, Washington lawyer Gregory
Garre wrote in his brief on behalf of the university.
Under Supreme Court precedents, officials who use race as a
criterion to distribute government benefits (like admission to a
highly selective state university) must demonstrate that the use of
race is necessary to advance a compelling interest. They must also
prove that the means used to achieve that interest were narrowly
Since the mid-1990s, Texas state law has required the university
to admit the top 8 to 10 percent of graduates at each high school in
the state. The admissions program was designed to create a race-
neutral means to foster a diverse student body at UT.
Ironically, the program relies on racially-segregated housing
patterns in the state and associated racially-segregated community
schools to assemble a diverse freshman class. …