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US Supreme Court to Hear Case on Racial Preferences in University Admissions - 2002-12-02

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear an important case involving the issue of racial preferences for minority students seeking to attend public universities.

The nine-member Supreme Court will re-enter the debate on "affirmative action" programs as they apply to the admission of college students.

The high court has agreed to hear a case of three white students from Michigan who claim they were denied admission to the University of Michigan and its law school because minority students got preferential treatment.

The Supreme Court must now decide whether public universities and colleges can continue to consider a student's race as part of the admissions process.

Supporters of affirmative-action programs argue that race must be taken into account to encourage student diversity and remedy past discrimination.

Critics charge that racial preferences amount to reverse discrimination against whites and allow less-qualified applicants from minorities to be accepted over more deserving students.

Civil-rights groups around the country will be paying close attention to the arguments before the Supreme Court and its eventual decision.

Ikeita Cantu-Hinojosa, with the National Women's Law Center in Washington, says, "It is difficult to overstate the importance of today's announcement by the United States Supreme Court, because this is the first time since 1978 that the high court has decided to hear the consideration of race in higher education, and so the impact of today's decision will be felt for generations to come."

In its 1978 ruling on affirmative action in higher education, the court, by a vote of 5-4, outlawed racial quotas for college admissions, but allowed schools to consider race in deciding which students to accept.

University of Michigan officials warn that any attempt by the Supreme Court to strike down the affirmative action admissions program would greatly hamper their efforts to maintain a diverse student body.

The high court will hear oral arguments in the case early next year, and will issue a ruling by the end of June.