Affirmative action is one of those divisive political issues on which most people are firmly on one side or the other, with little to no middle ground. When the U.S. Supreme Court convenes in October, it will hear arguments in Fisher vs. the University of Texas, which centers on whether the university's policy of considering race as an admissions factor violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. It's the first affirmative action case to be heard in the high court since 2003.
The Obama administration weighed in on the case in a brief signed by six federal agencies, arguing that race should be one of many factors considered in admissions and that diversity is essential to the nation's interest.
"Careers in a range of fields that are vital to the national interest — such as the military officer corps, science, law, medicine, finance, education and other professions (for which a university degree is a prerequisite) — must be open to all segments of American society, regardless of race and ethnicity," argued U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli in the brief. "This is not simply a matter of civic responsibility; it is a pressing necessity in an era of intense competition in the global economy and ever-evolving worldwide national-security threats."
The case was brought by Abigail Noel Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to the university in 2008 and claims that she was discriminated against because of her race. The University of Texas system has a rule that guarantees admission to all high school students who graduate in the top ten percent of their class. A study published in April in the journal Race and Social Problems found that the "top ten percent" rule has benefitted white students more than it has Latino students.
In the most recent affirmative action case, Grutter v. Bollinger, the court upheld the University of Michigan's use of race in admissions by 5 to 4. Politico reports that Justices Ginsberg and Breyer from the majority and Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas from the minority are still on the court. Justice Kagan will have to recuse herself because she played a role in an earlier amicus brief the government filed in the Fisher case.
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(Photo: REUTERS/Gregory Shamus GS/GN)