The Supreme Court Has Held Up Affirmative Action in College Admissions

In December of 2015, a case involving affirmative action at a Texas university headed to the Supreme Court. At play was the central issue of how race, if at all, should be applied in the university admissions process. As previously reported by Ambrosia for Heads, the December hearing was related to a ruling dating back to when a White applicant to the University of Texas claimed she was turned down because of her race. “In 1996, the lower courts ruled that the University of Texas could not consider race at all in admissions, and the number of minorities enrolled at the school promptly plummeted by 40 percent,” a trend which led to an increased homogenization of the student body. The school put into play what is referred to as the Top 10 Percent program, which promises any student graduating in the top 10 percent of his or her public high school class a place at U.T. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that affirmative action was constitutional but two decades later, some representatives of the university, including the White applicant in question, challenged the Court’s late ’90s ruling, and so last December, a new legal battle went underway.

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Today, a decision has been made and the University of Texas has lost its case. As reported by the New York Times, the Supreme Court once again upheld affirmative action, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing in the majority statement “A university is in large part defined by those intangible ‘qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness. Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.” Joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, Kennedy has put into the history books a ruling that will likely protect race-conscious admissions programs for decades to come.

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Any political issue involving race and merit is understandably fraught with implications. Affirmative action, at its molecular level, is aimed at offering minorities equal access to opportunities such as higher education. However, opponents argue that only merit should be taken into consideration, and that perfectly eligible White Americans are being withheld so that organizations like universities can maintain a quota system.

Readers can follow more about the decision in the Supreme Court’s official blog.