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Supreme Court case on use of race in admissions could be landmark

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The race-conscious plan is being challenged by a white student, Abigail Fisher, who claims she was denied admission to UT so that African-American and Latino students, who she says were less qualified, could be admitted.

Ms. Fisher’s lawyers argue that the school engaged in government-sponsored racial discrimination in violation of Fisher’s constitutional right to equal protection.

“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,” Washington lawyer Bert Rein wrote in his brief on behalf of Fisher.

Lawyers for the university deny that school officials engage in racial discrimination. They say consideration of a student’s race is part of a holistic review process that also considers leadership potential, extracurricular activities, work experience, community service, and various components of socioeconomic status.

Consideration of race helps admissions officers understand prospective students in their totality, but race alone does not decide the final outcome, they say.

"Consistent with the holistic and modest way in which race is considered, it is impossible to tell whether an applicant’s race was a tipping factor for any given admit,” Washington lawyer Gregory Garre wrote in his brief on behalf of the university.

Under Supreme Court precedents, officials who use race as a criterion to distribute government benefits (like admission to a highly selective state university) must demonstrate that the use of race is necessary to advance a compelling interest. They must also prove that the means used to achieve that interest were narrowly tailored.

Since the mid-1990s, Texas state law has required the university to admit the top 8 to 10 percent of graduates at each high school in the state. The admissions program was designed to create a race-neutral means to foster a diverse student body at UT.

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