On October 10th, the United States Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case that will decide if the the use of race in the admissions process should continue.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling, a ruling that stated segregation in public schools violated the clause of the 14th Amendment guaranteeing that states could not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
In one of the most famous quotes from the 9 to 0 decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren said: “In the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
In the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case, the Supreme Court said the UC Davis medical school admissions program violated the equal protection clause with the institution of quotas for underrepresented minorities by setting aside 16 of the 100 seats for non-white students. However, Justice Lewis Powell's decision in the majority upheld diversity in higher education as a "compelling interest" and held that race could be one of the factors in university admissions.
Nearly 30 years later, the Supreme Court was faced with the questions of whether race may be used as a determining factor in the admissions process for schools. In the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger case the court ruled ruled that the use of affirmative action in school admission is constitutional if it treats race as one factor among many for the purpose of achieving a "diverse" class. It cannot substitute the use of race for individualized reviews of applicants, and it is unconstitutional if it automatically increases an applicant's chances over others simply because of his or her race.
Once again, the issue of race in the application process comes before the Supreme Court. Abigail Fisher, a white Texas resident, filed a discrimination law suit against the University of Texas at Austin when she was denied admission to the the university, claiming she was rejected because of her race.
In her brief to the Supreme Court, Fisher stated: “If any state action should respect racial equality, it is university admission. Selecting those who will benefit from the limited places available at universities has enormous consequences.”
Some are hopeful that this decision will offer clarity once and for all. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Edward Blum said the case in: "an opportunity to clarify the boundaries of race preferences in college admissions, or perhaps get rid of them altogether."
Blum works for Project on Fair Representation, the organization that helped to orchestrate the Fisher case and other litigation against affirmative-action practices in education and election law.
The University of Texas admissions director, Kedra Ishop, told the Wall Street Journal the case was "about much more than the admissions process at the University of Texas. It's about the types of leaders we're developing for our future."
Blum told the Los Angeles Times"Using a student's race to give him an advantage or disadvantage strikes most Americans as wrong. They are creating more diversity through the top 10% policy, and every black and Hispanic student can say, 'My race was not a factor in my admission.'"