Conservatives hoping the Supreme Court will limit affirmative action at pubic colleges are at odds with an Obama administration legal brief asking a federal appeals court to uphold race-based admissions at the University of Texas.
The brief is part of a case before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans challenging the school’s practice of using race and ethnic background as significant factors in the admission of 25 percent of the university’s student annually. The remaining 75 percent are admitted mainly on academic grounds.
"We think it is critical to being able to achieve the diverse institution that we think is important,” Patricia Ohlendorf, Vice President for Legal Affairs at the University of Texas tells The Wall Street Journal. Ohlendorf says many public and private school have turned to affirmative-action programs for blacks and Hispanic groups, who on average have lower entrance exam scores than Asian-American and white students
The Obama administration concurs: "[The] university's effort to promote diversity is a paramount government objective," says the brief filed by the Education and Justice departments. The administration disputed claims that Texas was simply engaging in raw racial preferences.
"The question is not whether an individual belongs to a racial group, but rather how an individual's membership in any group may provide deeper understanding of the person's record and experiences, as well as the contribution she can make to the school," the brief says.
The case was brought by two rejected Caucasian applicants who allege that the admissions evaluation is civil rights violation. The District Court denied their claim based on a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that upheld an admissions system at The University of Michigan Law School that used race as a factor.
In that ruling, Grutter v. Bollinger, the court said the law school had “a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body.” The court prohibited “outright racial balancing,” but said that race could be a “plus” factor to build a “critical mass” of minority students.
The Texas plaintiffs’ case is currently before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Whoever loses there will likely petition the Supreme Court.
Bert Rein, Washington attorney for the plaintiffs said this case “might cause the Supreme Court to think again” regarding whether diversity still justifies classifying students by race.
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