Students protest outside the Supreme Court. (Photo : Reuters)
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The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, centers around a white student who contends that she was denied admission to the University of Texas so that less qualified African-American and Latino students could be admitted, in an effort to increase diversity at the school.
The University of Texas extends acceptance letters to any student who graduates in the top 10 percent of their high school class. In addition, a smaller percentage of incoming freshman classes are selected based on other criteria like grades, test scores and extracurricular activities-one of these is race.
The school contends that the policy allows them to create a more diverse student body, which they view as one part of their educational mission.
The Supreme Court has ruled several different ways regarding race-based school admissions in the past. It struck down California's program, and in the past decade, minority enrollment at California higher education institutions has plummeted.
But it upheld a similar University of Michigan program, which prompted Texas to begin their own version.
"UT should not be permitted to employ gratuitous racial preferences when a race-neutral policy has resulted in over one-fifth of university entrants being African-American or Hispanic," said Fisher's lawyer Bert Rein.
The most recent freshman class at the university was 18.4 percent Hispanic, 49.8 percent white, 4.5 percent African-American and 15.2 percent Asian-American.
In comparison, the population of Texas is 37.6 percent Hispanic, 45.3 percent white, 3.8 percent African-American and less than 1 percent Asian-American.
"Race is not considered on its own, and it is never determinative of an applicant's admission by itself," said Donald Verrilli, US solicitor general, in a brief supporting the school.
"Rather, race is one of a number of contextual factors that provide a more complete understanding of the applicant's record and experiences. That is a far cry from impermissible racial balancing," he said.
The conservatives on the court seem poised to strike it down, and the liberals seem inclined to uphold it, including Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote, may ultimately decide the policy's fate.