On Wednesday, October 10, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that may well decide the fate of affirmative action in higher education by hearing oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The issue before the court is the age old one of whether a college admissions committee may consider race or ethnicity in the admission hiring process. This case will have a huge impact for future generations.
As background, the Supreme Court in the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger ruled that race could play a limited role in the admissions policies of universities. If the Supreme Court now decides the other way, all equal opportunity policies used in admissions at colleges and universities could be in serious jeopardy.
The facts before the court in the Texas case are undisputed. In Texas, all students who rank in the top 10% of their high school class are automatically given admission to attend the University of Texas. After those students are offered admission, the remaining applicant pool is reviewed. The review of those students is passed on class rank, test scores, rigors of their high school curriculum and a Personal Achievement Index.
The student must write two essays and a personal achievement score is based on leadership ability and potential, community service, work experience and special circumstances. Special circumstances take into account such things as a single parent household, race and if other languages are spoken in the student’s household other than English. The combination of all of those things taken into consideration determines who will be offered admission.
Civil rights organizations will be on hand to rally during the argument before the Supreme Court @ 11:00 a.m. According to Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights stated:
“ The University of Texas has created a fair process for expanding opportunity and academically enriching campus for its students. It’s a policy that provides tremendous benefits to Texas and to our nation, and our presence at the Court will help amplify that message.”
Justice Elean Kagan has recused herself from hearing and deciding the case. It will be several months before the Court makes a decision.
A reversal of the admission process will undoubtedly have a serious impact on the admissions of minority students at predominately white universities and colleges. A reversal would “have a negative impact on people of marginalized backgrounds receiving an equal opportunity to higher education within the United States”, according to Rev. Al Sharpton who will join in the rally at the Supreme Court with other civil rights organizations and leaders.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national, international and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, local NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, Washington Post, among others. She also contributes articles to the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.