Supreme Court Considers Case That May End Affirmative Action

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Abigail Fisher and Edward Blum walk outside the Supreme Court in October 2012. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)
Abigail Fisher and Edward Blum walk outside the Supreme Court in October 2012. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

The Supreme Court has recently tackled voting rights and fair housing laws. The latest hot-button issue the judges are getting ready to address is affirmative action. USA Today reports that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear another challenge by lawyers representing Abigail Fisher, who claims she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of her race. If successful, Fisher’s legal fight will be one step toward ending affirmative-action policies across the country.

“The outcome of this case may bring our nation closer to the day when a student’s race and ethnicity is not a factor that a school may consider during the admissions process,” said Edward Blum, president of the Project on Fair Representation, in an USA Today article.

The University of Texas has a policy of admitting the top 10 percent of each graduating high school class, according to Slate.com. This policy guarantees some ethnic diversity as Americans still largely live in segregated neighborhoods. However, Fisher did not score in the top 10 percent of her class and had average grades.

“When Fisher applied in 2008, notes (Nikole) Hannah-Jones, the UT Austin filled 92 percent of its in-state spots with students from the top 10 program. She wasn’t among them. With a 3.59 grade-point average and a modest SAT score of 1180 out of 1600, she was a solid student but not a great one, not for a school with an overall acceptance rate of 40 percent and an extremely low acceptance rate (comparable to Harvard’s) for in-state students admitted outside of top 10,” said Slate writer Jamelle Bouie.

However, Fisher was not satisfied with her rejection letter and claimed the University of Texas had accepted other, lower-scoring students.

“There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin,” said Fisher, according to the Slate.com article.

However, ProPublica points out most of the students admitted to the University of Texas with grades lower than Fisher’s were white.

“It’s true that the university, for whatever reason, offered provisional admission to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were black or Latino. Forty-two were white,” reported ProPublica.

The Fisher case may be more about ending affirmative action than gaining admittance to the University of Texas. ProPublica said Fisher has already graduated from Louisiana State University and is only seeking $100 in damages.

Fisher might have some support on the Supreme Court. Some judges, such as Justice Clarence Thomas, are against the idea of affirmative action. He is known to despise affirmative action, even though he benefitted from it during his career. Thomas has compared affirmative action to Jim Crow laws, said Slate. Justice Antonin Scalia, another conservative judge, is also against affirmative action.

In his first opinion on the Fisher case, Scalia wrote, “The Constitution proscribes government discrimination on the basis of race, and state-provided education is no exception.”

According to USA Today, seven other states, California, Florida, Washington, Arizona, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Hampshire, have banned race-based college admission programs. Slate stated that if affirmative action is overturned, colleges are likely to turn to programs that consider admission based on class or family income.

Interestingly enough, while conservative activists seem to be targeting race-based admission programs, they have said nothing about other forms of affirmative action such as legacy programs, which guarantee admission to low-scoring white students if their parents or grandparents attended a school.

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