Obama administration details acceptable use of race in admissions in a letter

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In response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas earlier this year, officials from the Obama administration affirmed the validity of using race as a factor in determining university admissions in a letter addressed to university presidents across the country on Friday.

 

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Fisher case, officials from the Education and Justice departments said colleges and universities within the United States can continue to use race as a factor in their admission policies only if it is necessary for achieving diversity.

 

“The Court preserved the well-established legal principle that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body and can lawfully pursue that interest in their admissions programs,” the letter said.

 

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth Circuit Court did not apply strict scrutiny to UT’s admission policy, which does use race as a factor, and sent the case back to the appeals court. The Court’s decision in the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case allowed universities and colleges in the United States to use race as a factor, only if no other race-neutral means of achieving diversity goals were viable.

 

UT law professor Lino Graglia, who specializes in racial discrimination and affirmative action among other topics, said the Obama administration sent the letter because the Fisher decision has opened the door for admissions policies to be further scrutinized.

 

“The Grutter case said that diversity is a compelling interest. What the Fisher case did is cast some skepticism on that,” Graglia said. “They haven’t disallowed racial preferences [in university admissions], but they certainly invited litigation.”

 

In an email to The Daily Texan last week, Edward Blum, director of the Project for Fair Representation, said in sending the case back to the Fifth Circuit, the Supreme Court ruled in plaintiff Abigail Fisher’s favor. His organization has represented Fisher during the case’s progression through the legal system.

 

“Abby Fisher never asked the Court to overturn Grutter. We only asked that Grutter be applied properly by UT,” Blum wrote in his email. “The Court agreed with us 7-1. We won; UT lost; the Fifth Circuit was wrong in their decision and analysis and the justices vacated the opinion.”

 

Fisher sued the University in 2008 after she was denied admission into the University. Fisher, who has since graduated from Louisiana State University, claimed UT violated her right to equal protection because its admissions policy considers race as a factor for students who do not automatically qualify under the Top 10 Percent Law.

 

Although the Supreme Court sent the case to a lower court so UT’s admissions policy might be looked at more closely, Graglia said the Fisher decision did not overturn the Grutter ruling.

 

“The Fisher decision does not go as far as the opponents of affirmative action want,” Graglia said. “That is, it doesn’t say that considering race in admissions is unconstitutional.”

 

UT spokesman Gary Susswein did not comment on the letter but said the University is confident in its admissions policy.

 

The Fifth Circuit Court is scheduled to hear the Fisher case again on Nov. 13.