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Supreme Court to Consider Role of Race in College Admission

UT's admission policies, possibly including the "top 10 percent" rule, will be heard before the Supreme Court this fall.
Photo by KUT News
UT's admission policies, possibly including the "top 10 percent" rule, will be heard before the Supreme Court this fall.

The U.S. Supreme Court will revisit the issue of race in college admissions

Today, the court agreed to hear a challenge to the affirmative action policy at the University of Texas. The case was brought by Abigail Fisher, who argues she was denied admission to the university because of UT's race-conscious policy.

It's the second time the court has taken up the issue in the past 10 years. In 2003, the court upheld the University of Michigan's use of race in assessing law school applicants by a vote of 5-4. But today's court is more conservative. Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote the majority opinion in the Michigan case. She's since been replaced by Justice Samuel Alito – who tends to vote with the court’s more conservative bloc.

Yale law professor Peter Schuck tells KUT News a number of factors outside the court’s University of Michigan ruling could be in play, as each state university system differs. Here in Texas, Schuck points to the effect the UT system’s “top 10 percent” rule could play.

“What’s striking in this case is there is a 10 percent plan, as there is a few other states, in which the top 10 percent of the graduates of every high school, as I understand it, are admitted to the flagship campus. And then on top of this, as I understand it, Texas instituted some system for selecting the remaining students that uses race in some fashion.”

“The top ten percent rule was adopted, in fact, to ensure there would be a certain number of minority students at the flagship campus,” Schuck continues. “That’s clearly what was intended by it –  it had certain other advantages that recommend it to the regents, but that was certainly a major reason for it. So in a way, this is using race or emphasizing race in yet another aspect in the Texas system.”

When the Supreme Court hears the case this fall, the composition of the court may impact the ruling outside of political ideology.

It’s been widely reported that Justice Elena Kagan will excuse herself from the case. Time Magazine’s website says “Kagan's absence probably is a result of the Justice Department's participation in the Texas case in the lower courts at a time when she served as solicitor general.”

With Kagan’s recusal, “it will be a 4-4 bench, presumably,” Schuck says. “… If it’s a 4-4 decision, then that affirms the lower court decision.” That ruling from a Texas appeals court upheld the UT admissions process. “That would leave the system in place, as I understand it,” Schuck says.


Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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