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College racial admission policies tested before U.S. top court

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments on Wednesday over race-based admissions at the University of Texas in a highly charged dispute that could reverberate nationwide. The justices, in the oral arguments held on Wednesday morn...

 

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments on Wednesday over race-based admissions at the University of Texas in a highly charged dispute that could reverberate nationwide.

The justices, in the oral arguments held on Wednesday morning, revisited the case of Abigail Fisher, a 25-year-old white woman rejected for admission by the flagship campus in Austin in 2008.

She argued that a University of Texas affirmative-action policy unconstitutionally favored blacks and Hispanics. Affirmative action refers to policies under which minorities historically subject to discrimination are given certain preferences to enhance campus diversity.

When the justices first heard Fisher's case in 2012, the give-and-take during oral arguments was contentious and the justices appeared ready to strike down the admissions policy.

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But after eight months of mulling it over they ended up with a compromise ruling in 2013 that kicked the case back to a lower court for a tougher review of whether the university could justify looking at race among its admissions criteria. The appeals court again upheld the program.

Fisher said the university denied her admission in favor of lesser-qualified minorities. She graduated from Louisiana State University in 2012.

Now, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, which has ruled against racial remedies in voting, employment and other areas of the law, may be poised for a more dramatic step on university admissions.

The Texas case returns as legal battles have intensified. The conservative advocates behind the Texas challenge have separately launched more sweeping lawsuits against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

Those cases, brought on behalf of Asian Americans who claim they are particularly hurt by affirmative action programs, target the 1978 Supreme Court decision that first upheld race in campus admissions.

That ruling, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, forbade quotas but allowed an applicant's race to be used as one admissions factor among many to meet a university's compelling interest in having a racially diverse student population.

The challengers argue that the Bakke ruling was wrong and that the Constitution's equality guarantee means race can never dictate who gets a place on campus.

At the University of Texas at Austin, most freshman are admitted under a program that guarantees places to the top 10 percent of high school graduating classes. A supplemental program, which is targeted in the lawsuit, looks beyond grades to a range of characteristics including race.

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University officials contend that the top 10 percent method alone does not generate a sufficient mix of students for educational diversity.

Related Topics: U.S. SUPREME COURT
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