This Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard a repeat case involving the University of Texas and its habit of utilizing race-based admissions programs. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin provides the Court an opportunity to 1) review the school’s undergraduate admissions program and 2) potentially make serious changes to the way affirmative action can be used by American colleges.
After the original Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case in 2013, the Court ruled that all universities must prove that the use of race-based admissions programs are linked to government interests. In addition, courts must obtain actual evidence rather than simply rely on a school’s claims.
Remember when Justice O’Conner predicted that in 25 years, the “use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary”? Well, this week marks the hallway point of that time period. And racial tensions in the country are at a peak – especially on college campuses.
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin originated with a white student named Abigail Fisher. She was denied admission to the Texas school and she believed her race was the reason.
“We’re just arguing the same case,” Justice Kennedy said to the attorneys. He later noted, however, that he was unsure if Texas could offer any new information if the case was remanded like last time.
Five justices will cast their vote this time. And after tough questions from Republican-recruited members, affirmative action supporters feared that the Court’s decision would quash affirmative action as we know it.
The University of Texas at Austin has tried for years to increase the number of Hispanic and black students on campus. The school uses the “10 percent plan” to encourage diversity. Each year, the university immediately accepts the top 10% of students from all Texas high schools. But to its dismay, the school realized that this top 10% wasn’t as diverse as they had hoped.
This fact prompted Justice Antonin Scalia to question the university on why it is trying so hard to recruit students who may not even be prepared for the challenges of higher education. “I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many black as possible,” he said.
The school, which is backed by the Obama Administration, begged the Court to leave their 10% plan intact. Its attorneys, however, grappled with the Court’s complicated precedents regarding race – which can in fact be used as valid factors.
“On the one hand, we’re going to look to prove the way in which diversity was lacking,” said Gregory G. Garre, an attorney for the Texas school. “And then on the other hand, every time we point to something, our opponents seize on it, say, ‘Ah ha, that’s your objective.”
The justices remain divided. Justice Anthony Kennedy, predicted to be the swing vote, said that more hearings may be necessary in order to produce information that “we should know but we don’t know” about minority students to decide whether or not the use of race is necessary to increase student diversity at the Texas school. The final decision is not expected until next June.