U. to side with UT-Austin in affirmative action case
As the Supreme Court plans to hear a major affirmative action case this spring, the University will continue to express support for the consideration of race in the admissions process, officials said.
The Court decided last Tuesday to review the case of Fisher v. Texas, in which Abigail Fisher, a white student, claimed to be denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin because of her race. Fisher filed a lawsuit for alleged racial discrimination. This is the third time the nation’s highest court has decided to hear a case on affirmative action. The court last evaluated the use of race in admissions in 2003.
University General Counsel Peter McDonough said that Princeton will support the University of Texas in the case and will consider filing a supportive testimony.
"I certainly expect that we will be in discussion with our higher education colleagues and peers regarding submitting a friend of the court brief in the Fisher case," McDonough said. "We will be as attentive and involved as we can be in support of the U. of Texas and other members of the university communities in preparing a persuasive explanation for the court," he added.
In the two prior affirmative action cases in 1978 and 2003, the University also filed amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court. During the case nine years ago, the University’s brief was submitted in conjunction with Harvard, Brown, University of Chicago, Duke, University of Pennsylvania and Yale.
The University currently considers race in college admissions.
"Our admission practice takes race into account as a plus factor in a process that evaluates each applicant individually and weighs the capacity of each to contribute to the class, the institution and society,” University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua explained.
Even though Princeton is a private university, it would have to comply with federal laws regarding discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it receives federal funding.
The University’s co-written amicus brief from 2003 stressed that race or ethnicity was only “one among many factors” in admissions and was not decisive.
The note continued to explain that to overturn the 1978 ruling “would trigger wrenching disruption" and that to prohibit the consideration of race in admissions would “[replace] the benefits of competition, experimentation and heterogeneity with the dead hand of a stifling uniformity."
According to an upcoming article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Supreme Court is not expecting to come to the same decision it did in 2003 when it upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s supporting the use of race in admissions. Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the swing vote in the 5–4 decision. The swing vote for the court is now expected to be Justice Anthony Kennedy.
According to the Chronicle, Justice Elena Kagan ’81 has recused herself from the case due to a potential conflict of interest. Prior to her appointment to the court, Kagan served as the Dean of Harvard Law School. The absence of Kagan, who is considered sympathetic to this issue, leaves open the possibility of a tied decision by the court.