Tuesday, February 21, 2012

US Supreme Court takes Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

The case is an affirmative action matter brought by a white student. The student in question, Abigail Noel Fisher, did not get into school at the University of Texas at Austin, but did enter LSU. Of Fisher's background, the Houston Chronicle noted:

At the time [of her application to UTexas], Fisher was a senior at Stephen F. Austin High School with a 3.59 GPA, a high SAT score of 1180, and an extracurricular résumé that include playing cello in her high school orchestra. She also was in the top 12 percent of her graduating class, making her ineligible for automatic admissions under the top 10 percent law.

Fisher's lawsuit doesn't challenge the top 10 percent law, instituted after a 1996 appeals court ruling outlawed the use of race in admissions. Rather, the suit claims that Fisher was rejected under a UT-Austin policy that includes race as a factor in choosing students who fall short of the top 10 percent.

The Houston Chronicle framed the issue:

Fisher's lawsuit argues that the UT policy is unconstitutional and violates a basic tenet of the 2003 ruling, which allows colleges and universities to use race-based admissions criteria only after race-neutral alternatives have failed to achieve a diverse student body.

"At UT, they have a very successful race-neutral means, which has proven to be a better avenue for increasing diversity," said [Edward] Blum, referring to the top 10 percent law. "UT chose to add racial preferences on top of the top 10 percent."

In the vote by the Supreme Court agreeing to hear Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, Justice Elena Kagan didn’t take part and probably won’t participate when the court hears the case, so there will likely be only 8 justices voting. A key change from the year 2003, when the Supreme Court last addressed the issue, is the replacement of Justice O'Connor by Justice Alito. One may get a 5-3 vote, but if 4-4, then the decision below would stand.

Keywords: Grutter v. Bollinger


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