Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Justices Take Up Race and Higher Ed Supreme Court to Again Consider Affirmative Action in College Admission

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Justices Take Up Race and Higher Ed Supreme Court to Again Consider Affirmative Action in College Admission

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Since the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, conservatives have looked forward to the day when the Supreme Court would take up a new challenge to the use of race- based affirmative action in the nation's colleges and universities.

That day came Tuesday, when the justices announced that they would hear an appeal from a disappointed white student from Texas who seeks an end to "racial preferences" in the admission process.

Her appeal is likely to have national significance, potentially as the case that brings to an end the Supreme Court's more than three decades of decisions allowing affirmative action in admissions.

The Supreme Court first approved affirmative action in higher education in the Bakke case in 1978. A generation later, in 2003, Justice O'Connor wrote the court's decision reaffirming the practice, saying in a case involving the University of Michigan that colleges and universities could have limited racial preferences in order to achieve diversity on campus. At the time, Justice O'Connor suggested that after another 25 years, if racial prejudice continued to wane, such preferences would no longer be defensible.

But the end may come faster. Now that Justice O'Connor has been replaced by Samuel A. Alito Jr., five justices -- a majority -- are on record against the use of "racial balancing" by schools. "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said five years ago in a decision that prohibited race-based transfer policies in elementary and high schools.

Because the court's calendar is filled through the spring, the justices will not hear arguments in the case until October, weeks before the presidential election. Justice Elena Kagan said she would not participate, apparently because she worked on a Justice Department brief when the case was in a lower court.

The pending case could prod President Barack Obama to spell out his views on race and affirmative action in the middle of the presidential campaign.

When he first ran for president in 2008, Mr. Obama gave mixed signals on the issues. He said he saw a continued need for affirmative action to make up for a history of discrimination, but he said it should be limited to students who truly deserve extra help. …

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