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Supreme Court To Take Up Affirmative Action Case


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a landmark case about race and college admissions. In 2008, a white student named Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas in Austin. Ms. Fisher claimed she was denied admission to UT because of her race.

ABIGAIL FISHER: There were people in my class with lower grades who weren't in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT. And the only other difference between us was the color of our skin.

SIEGEL: Or at least that's what Abigail Fisher claims. Her suit, Fisher v. the University of Texas, could mean the end of admissions policies that take race into account. Over the next few minutes, we'll hear from students at the University of Texas, and we'll hear from a law professor who's been studying the banning of affirmative action in California's universities.

We'll begin with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. We'll have a full report on this case on tomorrow's MORNING EDITION, and we'll cover the arguments in court here tomorrow afternoon. Nina, first, Abigail Fisher was turned down by UT. She went to LSU instead. She's graduated from college. What is she asking the court to do?

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: She's asking the court to end the affirmative action program at UT. As far as I could tell, she doesn't really want anything for herself.

SIEGEL: And in a nutshell, what's her argument for ending the system that UT uses?

TOTENBERG: She maintains that the so-called top 10 program in Texas has been successful at diversifying the student body without considering race. The top 10 program was enacted by the state legislature in the late 1990s and guarantees admission to UT for high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class.

And the program has worked - at least to some degree - because, candidly, so many of the schools in the state are segregated almost entirely one race or ethnic group. And Ms. Fisher says that since the top 10 program has worked to some degree and is race-neutral, it is unnecessary to pile an affirmative action program on top of that.

SIEGEL: She obviously wasn't in the top 10 percent of her high school, but there are students admitted under an additional program that the university considers a more holistic approach, not just class rank.

TOTENBERG: The university says, first, that Ms. Fisher's grades and board scores were simply not high enough for her to be admitted no matter what her race. And the school says that given the surge in the Hispanic and black population, the top 10 program still leaves minorities way underrepresented. And, indeed, that the numbers were falling. So the school adopted a program based on individual evaluation that allows race to be considered as one of many factors, just as special math or a musical ability can be a plus factor.

SIEGEL: And going into this case, where does the Supreme Court stand on race-based or race-conscious admissions?

TOTENBERG: Well, it has twice ruled that race can be a factor in admissions, just not quotas. But now the Supreme Court has decided to revisit the issue. The composition of the court is different than the last time it ruled in 2003, and supporters of affirmative action are extremely worried.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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