Supreme Court Hears Arguments in University of Texas Equal Opportunity Case

Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that could determine whether universities can continue to use race as one of many factors in admissions, which could impact their ability to promote diverse learning environments for all students.

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The Supreme Court last considered this question in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger. In that decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the majority, held that in trying to achieve diversity, a university may consider the race of a student as one factor among many as part of a holistic and individual review of an applicant. Justice O’Connor also noted the importance of diversity in preparing students for the real world.

Civil and human rights organizations have long supported equal opportunity initiatives that allow universities to consider, within a group of qualified applicants, factors in addition to test scores in order to create a diverse learning environment.

“Equal educational opportunity remains an elusive goal in Texas as throughout the nation. Texas, in particular, has faced and continues to face ongoing inequities in its funding of public schools; because of segregation, these disparities correlate strongly with race,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “This and other educational inequities, while not strictly a part of the constitutional test in this case, are critical context in evaluating a program designed to ensure that all university students receive the benefits of student body diversity.”

The Fisher challenge was brought by a White student who claims she was denied admission to the University of Texas (UT) at Austin due to an admissions policy that considers race. UT modeled its admissions process for expanding opportunity after the University of Michigan Law School’s policy that was upheld in Grutter. In 2011, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously upheld the constitutionality of UT’s current admissions policy, saying it was consistent with Grutter.

A diverse array of groups and leaders, including The Leadership Conference, filed 73 amicus curiae, or friend-of-the-court, briefs in support of UT’s admissions policy. These supporters – which include more than 55 leading corporations, more than 35 high-ranking retired military officials, student organizations, prominent social scientists, colleges and universities, small business representatives, states, religious denominations, labor unions, and civil and human rights organizations – have all recognized the importance of diversity in the classroom and beyond.

“As the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, we should leave pathways to opportunity visibly open to everyone in our country. Colleges will be less diverse if race can’t be considered on applications,” said Debo Adegbile, acting president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. “After colleges in California stopped considering race, the number of African American students at UCLA and Berkeley declined significantly. For many students, college is the first time they have meaningful opportunities to interact with people from vastly different backgrounds.”

Tomorrow, a number of organizations will be holding a rally in support of UT’s policy at the Supreme Court. For more information:

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