Supreme Court upholds race-conscious admissions

The Supreme Court of the United States, in an unexpected 4-3 ruling yesterday, said colleges and universities may continue to use race as one factor in making admissions decisions, although some uses of race may not pass constitutional muster, the New York Times reports.

The case involved Abigail Fisher, a graduate of Louisiana State University who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin while Texas accepted black students who had a lower grade point average than she did. The case has become a standard for reverse discrimination claims ever since it first came to the Supreme Court a few years ago.

A hallmark of the Civil Rights movement is the idea of basing decisions on the content of people’s character and being blind to the color of their skin. Affirmative action and the college admissions decisions that flow from it, however, are far less than colorblind.

“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled that students applying to the University of Texas can be treated differently because of their race or ethnicity,” Ms Fisher said in a statement. “I hope that the nation will one day move beyond affirmative action.”

It was essentially a moot point for her, since she has long since graduated from another university, but the Court effectively said that universities are in charge of their own admissions policies, not the Supreme Court, provided those policies pass some fairly strict constitutional tests. Justice Anthony M Kennedy delivered the Court’s opinion:

A system that selected every student through class rank alone would exclude the star athlete or musician whose grades suffered because of daily practices and training. It would exclude a talented young biologist who struggled to maintain above-average grades in humanities classes. And it would exclude a student whose freshman-year grades were poor because of a family crisis but who got herself back on track in her last three years of school, only to find herself just outside of the top decile of her class.

Ms Fisher barely missed a cutoff, usually set around 10 percent, where the UT system guarantees admission to students whose GPAs put them in the top of their high school graduating class. For applicants in her category, UT uses a more holistic admissions policy that incorporates race as one of several factors.

Justice Samuel Alito issued a 51-page dissent, which he read from the bench—a sign of deep disagreement. Chief Justice John G Roberts Jr and Justice Clarence Thomas joined him in dissent.

Even though U.T. has never provided any coherent explanation for its asserted need to discriminate on the basis of race, and even though U.T.’s position relies on a series of unsupported and noxious racial assumptions, the majority concludes that U.T. has met its heavy burden. This conclusion is remarkable—and remarkably wrong.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.