Students Might Take School to Court over Race-Based Admissions

Students who were denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin hope to take Texas’ largest university to the United States Supreme Court over an admissions decision they feel was based more on race than on merit. One white student, Abigail Fisher, sued the school in 2008 for not using race-neutral criteria, claiming she was denied admission because she is white. Another white female joined the lawsuit later, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The case has come before several courts since 2008, most recently in June 2011, when a federal appellate court decided not to rehear the case it had decided on in 2009. The 2009 decision upheld the university’s admissions policies and procedures despite arguments that because race-neutral options for determining admissions and acceptance criteria exist, the university should use them. The courts used the precedent of two 2003 Supreme Court cases involving the University of Michigan, which said race could be considered. In 2011, the court was split 9-7, making the case even more contentious.

Compounding the admissions difficulties is the state’s "Top 10% Plan," which grants automatic admission to any state university to every student who graduates in the top 10% of his or her Texas high school class. Ironically, the plan was adopted following a 1997 lawsuit involving the university’s law school. For popular and highly competitive schools like the University of Texas, acceptance can be difficult for students who test well and make good grades, but who are not in the top tenth of their class.

Because the court was so sharply divided on this major issue, the speculation is now that the case will go before the Supreme Court. One issue the court would address is whether or not the University of Texas allowed enough diversity in admissions by granting acceptance to minorities in the top tenth of their classes, or if it needs to have a more race-conscious admissions policy. But experts who spoke with the Chronicle of Higher Education disagree on if the case is ripe enough to go before the high court.

"Given how much the justices care about this issue, and given the perception of the conservative justices … I suspect they’ll take it," Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine, told the Chronicle.

Michael Olivas, a law professor at the University of Houston and author of Suing Alma Mater: Higher Education and the Courts, disagrees. "It does not present any fresh issue," he told the Chronicle. "My guess is that the court is tired of this."

Statistically, reports the Chronicle, cases like this have less than a 1% chance of being seen before the court. Several friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed urging the justices to address the issue, but its docket for the 2011-2012 year, according to CNN, already has some big cases and will be likely be confirmed by February.

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