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Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action shows diversity still matters

Today’s 7-1 Supreme Court decision on affirmative action in University of Texas admissions reaffirms the crucial role that diversity plays in a strong America – even while requiring the university to again jump through hoops to prove the validity of its admissions program.

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University of Texas senior Bradley Poole poses for a photo on campus near the Martin Luther King Jr. statue in Austin, Texas, in March.

Eric Gay/AP

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Today’s 7-1 Supreme Court decision on diversity in the University of Texas admissions program reaffirms the crucial role that diversity plays in the strength of America – even while requiring the university to again jump through hoops to prove the validity of its admissions program.

All students – no matter where they live, or what their race or social status – benefit from a diverse educational  environment where they learn from the life experiences of their classmates, and can carry these experiences with them through their lives.

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recognized this 10 years ago, when she wrote that “classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting” when students have “the greatest possible variant of backgrounds.”

And today the court renewed that principle, even while it sent the case – Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin – back to a lower court to apply a stricter standard on the university to show that “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity,” as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the lead opinion.

The lower federal court had earlier ruled in favor of the university, and against Abigail Fisher, who claimed in 2008 that the only reason she was denied admission to UT at Austin was because she is white, even though she would not have met the university’s other admissions requirements.

In a country that has great diversity, many of the nation’s most prominent and important institutions still lag far behind. And let there be no doubt, there are some justices, perhaps even a majority, on the court today who would do away with Justice O’Connor’s principle. They may believe that as a nation, the United States has achieved the promise of true quality, but most Americans know otherwise. 

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