The US Supreme Court’s term begins today, and race relations is at the top of the court’s agenda. The US press hails Fisher v University of Texas as the most important case the Court has agreed to hear thus far. Word is out that it could sound the death knell for affirmative action in the United States.
The justices are being asked to decide whether race-based affirmative action in college admissions is still constitutional. The petitioner is a white student who was turned down by the University of Texas in 2008. She claims she was a victim of illegal race discrimination under their policy of affirmative action.
In 1997 the Texas legislature enacted a law requiring the University of Texas to admit all Texas high school seniors ranking in the top ten percent of their classes. Whilst this measure improved access to tertiary education for many, the colleges protested at having their hands tied with regard to highly talented students who showed promise in certain subjects but did not come in to the top ten percent (including minority students in highly integrated high schools). To redress this balance the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that universities could consider a minority student’s race as a “plus factor” in admissions. The Court based its ruling on the need for colleges to ensure a diverse student body. Following this judgment, the University of Texas added a new affirmative action policy to go along with the automatic admission rule with race being a “plus factor” in admission. Continue reading