Supreme Court hears affirmative action case. What do Americans think?

The majority-conservative high court is believed to be considering whether to cut back, or end entirely, race as a criteria in higher education admissions decisions.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
Abigail Fisher (r.), a white suburban Houston student who asserted she was wrongly rejected by the University of Texas at Austin while minority students with similar grades and test scores were admitted thanks to the admissions policy, and Edward Blum (l.), director of the Project on Fair Representation, at a news conference in Washington, in June 2013. The US Supreme Court on Dec. 9 will again take up the highly charged question of race in admissions to public universities, hearing arguments for the second time from the white woman who says a University of Texas policy caused her to be rejected in favor of less qualified blacks and Hispanics.

The US Supreme Court is considering, for the second time, a white Texan's case against affirmative action in college admissions decisions.

The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, contends she was rejected by the University of Texas' flagship campus in Austin because Hispanic and black students were admitted, instead of her, on the basis of race rather than grades. The majority-conservative high court is believed to be considering whether to cut back, or end entirely, the basis of race in higher education admissions decisions at public institutions. 

Affirmative action is largely unsupported by conservatives, but the majority of Americans do support it, according to recent research that underscores how politicized the issue is.

A 2014 Pew Research survey found that roughly two-thirds of Americans view programs "designed to increase the number of black and minority students on college campuses" as a “good thing,” according to the research firm. Those results were about the same when Pew did the same survey back in 2003.

A more recent Gallup poll echoed this, finding that a majority of Americans, regardless of gender or race, still support affirmative action programs, though blacks, Hispanics, and Democrats were more likely to favor the policy. 

Twelve years ago, the justices reaffirmed the practice of considering race in the interest of promoting diversity on campuses. But as recently as 2014, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan's ban on considering race in college applications, deferring to voters in the state who rejected affirmative action. A similarly conservative Supreme Court first heard Ms. Fisher's case in 2012. The decision was inconclusive and resulted in a lower court review ordered by the justices.

Since then, the federal appeals court in New Orleans twice upheld the Texas admissions program and rejected Fisher's appeal.

At the Supreme Court on Wednesday, justices are anticipated to hear arguments for and against the University of Texas at Austin's practice of considering race, alongside other factors, when it considers applications for about a quarter of its freshman class. The majority of students gain admission to the university through a program that guarantees spots to Texans who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Fisher contends the "top 10" program works well enough admitting Hispanic and African-American students, without the basis of race further guiding admissions decisions, while the university says the program on its own falls short and it needs "the freedom to fill out incoming classes as it sees fit," according to the AP.

The demographics of the university's current freshman class is 22 percent Hispanic and 4.5 percent African-American, with white students comprising less than half the school's freshmen.

Edward Blum, who conceived this affirmative action case and handpicked Fisher as its plaintiff, says, “Fisher is about the proposition that your race should neither be used to help you nor harm you in your life’s endeavors.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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