Justices to Rule on Race in College Admissions; White Student Claims Violation of Civil Rights

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 22, 2012 | Go to article overview

Justices to Rule on Race in College Admissions; White Student Claims Violation of Civil Rights


Byline: Ben Wolfgang, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Supreme Court is wading into the sticky issue of race as a factor in college admissions, setting the stage for a highly charged legal debate in the middle of a presidential race over the constitutionality of affirmative-action policies in higher education.

The high court said Tuesday that it would hear this fall a challenge brought by a college student, Abigail Fisher, who says her civil rights were violated when she was denied entry to the University of Texas because she is white. It is the first university affirmative-action case in nearly a decade.

The decision could have broad implications for hiring and selection policies based on race in education, government contracting and other areas.

The University of Texas admits most students who finish in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, and the remaining spots are awarded based on a variety of factors, including a desire to achieve racial diversity.

Other schools have adopted similar policies. The approach is supported by the court's 2003 ruling in the Grutter v. Bollinger case, in which the justices decided that the University of Michigan Law School could use race as one factor in determining whom to accept.

Some viewed the process of avoiding racial quotas while still weighing skin color as an acceptable middle ground that should please both sides of the argument.

In reality, the approach has only generated more controversy.

Some complained that too few blacks and Hispanics are admitted under these plans. Others cried that the plans deprived too many whites of admissions slots, said Tomiko Brown-Nagin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. That conundrum .. is what the Fisher case is all about

The case, like others before it, is generating emotional reactions from both sides. Critics of the policies in Texas and Michigan see them as reverse discrimination, with white students such as Ms. Fisher denied entry so the school can achieve the politically correct amount of diversity. Academic and extracurricular achievements, they argue, should be the only factors in admission, and institutions do a disservice to all students by separating them by racial factions.

Racial diversity in a student body does not guarantee a diversity of experience and perspectives. It is unrealistic and wrong to try and pigeon-hole people by their race, said Joshua Thompson, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group that filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the justices to reverse their 2003 Michigan decision. …

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