Torn as ever over race, the Supreme Court on Wednesday weighed whether it’s time to end the use of race in college admissions nationwide or at least at the University of Texas.
With liberal and conservative justices starkly divided, the justice who almost certainly will dictate the outcome suggested that the court may need still more information to make a decision in a Texas case already on its second trip through the Supreme Court.
“We’re just arguing the same case,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said, recalling arguments first held in 2012 in the case of Abigail Fisher. “It’s as if nothing has happened.”
Kennedy said additional hearings may be needed to produce information that “we should know but we don’t know” about how minority students are admitted and what classes they take to determine whether the use of race is necessary to increase diversity at the University of Texas.
Fisher has been out of college since 2012, but the justices’ renewed interest in her case appeared to be a sign that the court’s conservative majority is poised to cut back, or even end, affirmative action in higher education.
Their skepticism about it was on display during more than 90 minutes in a packed courtroom.
“What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked at one point, challenging a part of Texas’ argument that says its program is needed to increase diversity at the classroom level.
Justice Antonin Scalia suggested it’s possible that some black students would benefit from being at a “slower-track school,” instead of Texas’ flagship campus in Austin, where some are “being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”
But it was not clear from the arguments whether Kennedy would go as far as his conservative colleagues to deal a blow to race as a factor in college admissions.
Potentially complicating the outcome, Justice Elena Kagan is sitting out the case because she worked on it at an earlier stage at the Justice Department, before joining the court. Her absence creates the possibility of a 4-4 split. That would resolve the case in Texas’ favor, but say nothing about the issue nationally. The other three liberal justices appeared solidly in favor of the Texas program.
Read more at JETMag.com.