WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court said this week it will re-hear a landmark affirmative action case, examining the constitutionality of the admissions policy of the University of Texas at Austin.
The justices said they will hear for a second time the case of a white female, Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to the University of Texas’ flagship Austin campus in 2008. She said this was due to school requirements aimed at ensuring diversity and the admission of minority students.
Fisher took legal action against the university, and her case went to the Supreme Court in 2013. The high court at the time sent it to a lower appeals court which again upheld the university’s policy.
One of Many Factors
In 2003, the Supreme Court had affirmed that race can be one of many factors considered in student admissions because a majority of the court ruled that there is a compelling interest in having a diverse student body.
The decision by the high court to re-examine the case brought by Fisher has re-ignited the debate about affirmative action in college admissions.
Michael Yaki, Commissioner of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said affirmative action is a good thing.
“I don’t think race should ever be a barrier to anyone getting into a university,” he said. “On the other hand, I think race should be a consideration in terms of balancing a university class.”
“Our nation is stronger when people from diverse cultures and diverse backgrounds can work, live and study together,” Yaki said. It will “benefit the society and benefit our future,” he added.
Tom Fitton, President of Judicial Watch in Washington D.C. disagrees. He said colleges should make decisions based on merit.
“Race-based decision-making by colleges in admissions programs [is] contrary to the law and contrary to the Constitution,” Fitton said. Colleges that include race in their admissions programs have said they need diversity, but, in his words, it’s all “a bad disguise of race-based decision-making… People are harmed by these decisions, because for every person who gets in because they are minority, there is someone who may be left out because they are not.”
Fitton and other critics of affirmative action say the policy also hurts Asians who are often perceived as a “model minority.”
“The Asian American community gets harmed by this, because their educational achievements make them excellent candidates, if it was just based on merit,” Fitton said.
A coalition of Asian organizations filed a complaint last month with the Justice and Education Departments, accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian American students in its admission process.
Commissioner Michael Yaki said he didn’t think Harvard University discriminates against Asian American students. He said the key is whether there is “a systemic policy of discrimination against a single group because of their race.”
“If Harvard discriminates against Asians, because they don’t want too many Asians, and they set a hard number on how many [Asians] would get in no matter who would apply, I would have a problem with that,” he said
Abigail Fisher has since attended and graduated from Louisiana State University and now is working at a finance firm. In her case against the University of Texas, the Supreme Court’s decision later this year may have profound impact on many others like her.
Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch said he hopes the high court “taking up this issue again will lead to the further curtailing of race-based decision making in college admissions.”
Michael Yaki of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission said, however, the Supreme Court “at least says more strongly that affirmative action as long as it’s not about quotas is still permissible at the university level.”
The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, will be argued in Washington when the U.S. Supreme Court re-convenes in October.