Supreme Court considering case on affirmative action in college admissions

Michael Patton, Staff Writer

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Oct. 10 on the affirmative action case “Fisher v. University of Texas.”  In this case a white student applied to the University of Texas and was denied admission. Following her rejection, the student challenged the university’s use of racial preferences in its admissions system. Texas states in oral arguments that race, among many factors, is a criteria that is considered when making admissions decisions. On the other hand, state law in Texas provides graduating students in the top 10th percentile from their state high schools automatic acceptance to the University of Texas.

The question presented to the Supreme Court in the “Fisher” case asks if “the court’s decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, including “Grutter v. Bollinger” (2003), permit the University of Texas at Austin’s use of race as a consideration in undergraduate admissions decisions.” At issue here is whether the flagship state universities’ race-conscious admissions policies violate the rights of white applicants. If this is found to be true, then the existence of the affirmative action policy is in question as well.

“Hasn’t affirmative action reached its critical mass point, in which it balances itself out,” asks Justice Anthony McLeod Kennedy in oral arguments. His statement refers to the U.S. Census data that indicates minorities will no longer be the minority in the year 2016. This data may also call into question other affirmative action policies regarding employment and government programs.

The decision of “Fisher v. University of Texas,” which will not be made until after this year’s November elections, has great significance to the UW-Madison. According to Provost Paul DeLuca in an interview with The Daily Cardinal, “UW-Madison uses a holistic admissions policy, which admits students based on a number of factors, including economic background, and first generation college student’s statuses as well as race and ethnicity. If the court decides to change the current affirmative action laws in the U.S., UW Madison will lose valuable diversity. The University wants a population of students that is highly representative of a diverse population of individuals.”

The Supreme Court previously upheld the affirmative action policy for the University of Michigan Law School in the case “Grutter v. Bollinger.”  It was a 5-4 decision with retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor the deciding vote. However, prior to the Grutter case, “Regents of The University of California v. Bakke” (1978) was an argument over admission spaces set aside for minorities along with a separate admissions process created for minorities to fill these reserved spaces. As a white male, Bakke was denied admission because the university claimed there was no room for him. At the same time minorities were still being admitted, as the spaces reserved for them had not been filled.

Following the retirement of Justice O’Connor, two new Justices have taken the bench. Justice Sonia Sotomayer and Elena Kagan. Traditionally Justice Anthony Kennedy tends to vote against affirmative action cases.