Supreme Court scrutinizes university's use of race in admissions

supreme court
Attorney Bert Rein (L), speaks to the media while standing with plaintiff Abigail Noel Fisher (R), after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in her case on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Supreme Court today returned to the controversial issue of affirmative action, hearing arguments over the University of Texas at Austin's consideration of race in its admissions program.

The fate of the university's program -- and perhaps the way schools nationwide talk about race -- could rest with moderate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. The court's four conservatives -- as well as Kennedy -- seemed interested in finding a way to dial back the use of race in college admissions without scuttling the goal of promoting diversity. Some of the most pointed and probing questions came from Kennedy, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts.

If the court decides to overrule the precedent it set in 2003, which allows for a "holistic" approach to racial consideration in college admissions, its political ramifications would run deep. Dozens of high-profile figures and organizations filed amicus briefs in this high-profile case, mostly in favor of affirmative action. Business leaders and former military leaders argued to the Supreme Court that tossing out race-based affirmative action would hurt the training of future military and business leaders.

University of Texas at Austin's admissions program was called into question by Abigail Fisher, a 22-year-old white woman who was rejected from the school in 2008. Fisher filed suit, and her lawyers today argued that the university's consideration of race doesn't meet the standards of a "holistic" approach.

"We're entitled to the equal protection under the laws, and that is what this case has been about from the beginning," Bert Rein, Fisher's lawyer, told reporters after the hearing. While schools have "some interests in diversity," Rein said it should not be "an overriding consideration" in admissions. Race, he said, is "an odious and dangerous classification."

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