Supreme Court Hears Affirmative Action Case
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 12, 2012 03:10
Affirmative action admission policies came under fire as the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin Wednesday.
The case originated in 2009 when Abigail Fisher, a white applicant, was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin. Fisher sued the school on the basis that its affirmative action policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The United States District Court upheld the University of Texas’ right to include affirmative action as part of its admissions process in a 2009 decision, and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling in 2011.
However, the university’s policy, which allows it to consider race as one of several factors in the admissions process, faced scrutiny from several Supreme Court justices Wednesday.
According to The Washington Post, many of the justices questioned where the university draws the line in seeking a “critical mass” of racial minorities.
“You won’t tell me what the critical mass is,” Chief Justice John Roberts said to University of Texas lawyer Gregory Garre. “How am I supposed to do the job that our precedents say I should do?”
Along with seven other Catholic universities, Georgetown filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Aug. 10 in support of the University of Texas and its race-conscious admissions process.
“[The universities] believe that race-blind admissions practices frustrate or impede the achievement of a diverse student body,” the brief reads. “Considering an applicant’s race or ethnicity as a factor — but not a defining one — in a holistic review of a student … [allows universities] to more fully realize their missions of recognizing the dignity and uniqueness of each person during the admissions process.”
Nonetheless, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Charles Deacon said that Georgetown’s approach to affirmative action actually involves targeting students from low-income backgrounds rather than particular racial backgrounds.
“Philosophically, we support affirmative action, because in a holistic admissions process like ours, many disparate factors about every candidate affect how we review them,” he said. “That said, in practice we think of affirmative action as giving attention to first-generation and low-income students, many of whom come from underrepresented minority groups. So, to some extent we have redefined how we think of affirmative action.”
Reactions from the Georgetown student body about the university’s open support for affirmative action admissions policies were mixed.
Celia Sawyerr (SFS ’16), a black student originally from Sierra Leone, said that the policy can be problematic regardless of a student’s race.
“I hate that people assume that the only reason I’m here is because I’m black,” Sawyerr said. “And I do think that there’s a certain element in the entire thing that may be very unfair towards majority groups like whites and Asians.”
However, some students, like Dayana Morales (SFS ’16), think that affirmative action policies should be expanded.
“I would like to see universities take gender and not just race more strongly into account when evaluating individuals for admission,” she said. “Affirmative action as now practiced is a good start, a step in the right direction, but in my opinion, it doesn’t go far enough.”