US government urges Supreme Court to uphold university affirmative action policy

[JURIST] The Obama administration urged [amicus brief, PDF] the US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday to uphold a policy at the University of Texas (UT) [official website] that considers applicants' race in its admissions criteria. The case involves a white applicant to UT who argues that she was denied admission to the school because of her race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment [LII backgrounder]. In its brief, the Obama administration argued that UT's admissions policy merely considered race as one of many factors in evaluating applicants, rather than used racial quotas, which the Supreme Court has held was unconstitutional in cases such as Gratz v. Bollinger and City of Richmond v. JA Croson Company [LII backgrounders]:

The fact that the University's consideration of race produced measured rather than drastic increases in the inevitable—and salutary—result of the University's structuring of its admissions policy so that race is but one factor within an individualized, holistic assessment of all kinds of diversity. These modest effects confirm that the University is not operating the policy as a quota, and that it has designed the process to minimize the impact on non-minority students.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear this case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin [SCOTUSblog backgrounder], in the fall.

The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] ruled last year that UT's admissions policy did not violate [JURIST report] Fisher's rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and federal civil rights statutes, affirming a lower court decision. The appeals court concluded that UT could rely on race as one of the "special circumstances" that the Supreme Court upheld in the 2003 case Grutter v. Bollinger [LII backgrounder] used to evaluate student applicants because race is one of many factors the university considers.

 

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