Is Affirmative Action Finished?

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amid protests, justices hear UT admissions case that could end affirmative action on campus.

“Most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. Conservative justices expressed deep doubt on Wednesday about a university student admissions policy that gives preferences to racial minorities during a testy U.S.WASHINGTON — Affirmative action challenges tend to be among the most complex, messy, statistics-laden and emotionally charged cases that land before the U.S.The issue of affirmative action in college admissions ran into a solid wall of conservative skepticism at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, but a long and contentious hearing gave both sides reason to wonder whether the opponents have enough votes to end it.

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Wednesday questioned the benefits of including students who are minorities at the most elite schools in the United States. Most students are admitted to the university through a plan that guarantees slots to Texans who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Critics of mismatch theory though argue that it ignores the fact that elite and selective schools are more well-equipped to assist struggling students. Abigail Fisher, the woman who initiated the case when she sued UT after being denied a place in the 2008 entering class, said she hopes her case puts affirmative action out of business nationwide. But Kennedy has also been reluctant to say race may never be used, and on Wednesday he seemed less convinced than the court’s other conservatives that he had all the information needed to pass judgment on UT’s program. At times, he wondered about ordering another judicial examination of whether UT’s program has had the success it claims; at others, he seemed to think even that would not make the decision easier. Supporters though say that Scalia’s comments were taken out of context and he has been wrongly painted as racist when he bumbled and invoked mismatch theory, which in itself has been controversial.

Al Sharpton attended the oral arguments and said afterward he was “very concerned” when he heard Scalia “suggest that maybe blacks do better at schools that are not as fast as UT. As a black woman who has managed to earn four higher education degrees (one from an Ivy League university) without my head exploding from the exertion, I have trouble seeing Scalia’s view as anything other than poorly reasoned drivel based on bare-faced racial stereotypes. “Oh yeah…?” tweeted Case Western Reserve history and politics professor Peter A. If those conservatives prevail, the Texas program, challenged by a white applicant named Abigail Fisher who was denied admission in 2008, and others like it could be in jeopardy.

Affirmative action refers to policies under which minorities historically subject to discrimination are given certain preferences in order to enhance the racial diversity of a university’s student population. Fisher’s lawyers argued the university’s policy favoring some black and Hispanic applicants was unconstitutional because it impermissibly considered race as a factor. Roberts Jr., for instance, questioned whether the small increase in diversity that the university reaped was worth “the extraordinary power to consider race.” When the court in 2003 decided race could be used in limited circumstances, “it was important . . . to say, look, this can’t go on forever — 25 years,” he said to the university’s attorney, Gregory G. Roberts noted half the time was up. “And when do you think your program will be done?” The court’s return to the issue — it considered UT’s plan two years ago and sent it back for additional judicial scrutiny — comes at a time when the country’s racial divide is again on vivid display.

In 2009, lawmakers reserved 25 percent of each freshman class for students considered on so-called holistic criteria, rather than the automatic admission under the 10 percent rule. While overall enrollment of minorities at UT has remained small, lawyers for UT told the court that the use of race as one factor has been instrumental to improving those numbers,.

He said opponents were trying to “kill affirmative action through a death by a thousand cuts.” “What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?” Roberts asked Garre, a former Bush administration solicitor general. Garre had said that one of the university’s goals was to ensure there were enough minority students in classes that they did not need to act as spokesmen for their race.

Some of the conservatives, including Kennedy and Roberts, appeared frustrated at what they considered the lack of evidence supporting the university’s need for the program. Although more evidence could be introduced if the case returns to a lower court, Kennedy later suggested the justices themselves could re-examine data provided by the university.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s only African American, asked no questions, but he has made it clear in the past that he opposes affirmative action. Justice Elena Kagan, who usually votes with the liberals, recused herself from the case, presumably because she worked on the issue when she was President Obama’s solicitor general.

Are we going to hit the deadline?” “Your Honor, I’m not here to give you a date,” he said. “But what I would say is this: There are systematic problems that these policies are attempting to address. The justices at the time told the lower court to apply the kind of rigorous evaluation that must accompany any government action that considers race. “Strict scrutiny imposes on the university the ultimate burden of demonstrating, before turning to racial classifications, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice,” Kennedy wrote in 2013.

He suggested Wednesday that perhaps the court still did not have enough facts about how the university’s program worked and wondered whether there should be a trial at the district court level, which has not happened. In a 2-to-1 vote, the panel concluded for a second time that the university’s limited consideration of race was “necessary” and narrowly tailored to meet the university’s compelling interest in achieving diversity.

She contends the university’s attempts to boost the number of African American and Hispanic students cost her a spot. (The university says she would not have made the cut regardless.) She subsequently graduated from Louisiana State University. Without considering race, he said, those admissions would become an “an all-white enterprise,” resulting in “glaring racial isolation” for other UT minority students. Verrilli Jr., representing the Obama administration, said courts should defer to university leaders, who are practically united in building diverse campuses.

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