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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Affirmative Action at the University of Texas

Graduation Scroll and Book StackThe Supreme Court has voted to uphold the affirmative action program at the University of Texas at Austin, thus allowing the school to continue using race as a factor in its admissions process.

The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, was brought to the United States District Court in 2009 by Abigail Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to the university in 2008. Fisher filed a suit, alleging that the school had discriminated against her based on race, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The University of Texas admissions department operates under the “Top 10 Percent” program, which admits applicants from the top 10% of every high school in the state.

This program has led to significant ethnic and racial diversity in enrollment at the University of Texas at Austin. For instance, in 2011, 26% of freshmen were Hispanic and 6% were African American.

Those applicants who did not graduate in the top 10% of their class are considered under standards that include academic achievement as well as other factors like race, ethnicity, and an overall picture of the applicant’s background. This decision-making process complies with the affirmative action program, which was declared constitutional under Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003.

Fisher did not graduate in the top 10% of her high school graduating class, and therefore was considered among the latter group of applicants.

Fisher’s lawsuit argued that the school’s decision not to admit her was based on her identity as a white woman, thus violating her constitutional rights.

Civil rights groups and other supporters of affirmative action say that this case could make a big difference. “No decision since Brown v. Board of Education has been as important as Fisher will prove to be in the long history of racial inclusion and educational diversity,” said Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe.

Inclusion in higher education is more important than ever. According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials with only a high school diploma earn 62% of the income a typical college graduate earns. In the 21st century job market, having a college degree from a reputable school is essential.

The Supreme Court voted four-to-three in favor of the school’s admissions practices, agreeing that the Top Ten Percent plan did not alone produce enough diversity. “An admissions policy that relies exclusively on class rank creates perverse incentives for applicants,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kennedy’s support came as a surprise for many. He has long shown skepticism towards race-sensitive programs and had never before voted in support of an affirmative action plan.

President Barack Obama praised the ruling, saying during a White House briefing on Thursday, “We are not a country that guarantees equal outcomes, but we do strive to provide an equal shot to everybody.”

Fisher, of course, expressed disappointment in the Supreme Court’s decision, saying “I hope that the nation will one day move beyond affirmative action.”