Supreme Court considers affirmative action

Posted 9:15 p.m. April 7

by Carolyn Polinsky
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

A landmark Supreme Court ruling on whether race can be used in university admissions processes could come in July.

That comes as the Court heard arguments this week from lawyers representing students who say the University of Michigan’s ranking system, in which minority students receive higher priority in the admissions process, is unconstitutional.

Thousands of protestors rallied outside the Supreme Court Wednesday as justices spent two hours debating admissions policies and questioning lawyers for each side.

Inside, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is considered a swing vote, wondered why race couldn’t be a consideration in determining who gets into law school, since many factors are given weight.

“I think we have given recognition to the use of race in a variety of settings,” O’Connor said.

However, she noted that there didn’t seem to be an end to the University of Michigan’s policy and said other affirmative action programs upheld by the court had a “fixed time period … (where) you could see an end to it.”

The cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger challenge the university’s law school and undergraduate admissions policies in which African American, Native American and Latino students are given special consideration or extra points on a ranking system. The University maintains that affirmative action is used in order to ensure a more diverse student body.

Plaintiffs believe that the University of Michigan has gone too far in making allowances for race. The White House lent its voice to the debate earlier this year by filing a brief against the university’s policies.

Justice Antonin Scalia did not sympathize with the university, saying that it had created an institution so hard to get into that “the Constitution’s prohibition of distribution on the basis of race” had to be disregarded for a diverse student body to be in place.

The upcoming ruling will be the first ruling by the Supreme Court on affirmative action in 25 years. In addition to having an impact on all federally funded education institutions, it will affect businesses and the armed forces. Some former military officials say that affirmative action is necessary to ensure that all races are represented in military academies and it may also be vital for national security, they believe.

Dr. Holly Brasher, a political science professor at George Washington University, said it is hard to predict the outcome of the case. She said while it may be hard to determine how O’Connor will vote, she thinks the Court will side with those seeking to end the University of Michigan’s policy.

She believes “most universities are committed to diversity and there are other ways of ensuring it” besides affirmative action. She added that schools have the option of creating systems similar to the one in Texas in which the top 10 percent of students from individual high schools are guaranteed admissions into college.

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