Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action could affect Princeton
“We hope and expect it will not,” McDonough said in an email, on the possibility that the Court’s decision could impact the University. “However, depending upon what the Court says and how it says it, it could.”
The 1964 Civil Rights Act prevents private institutions that receive federal funding — like the University — from discriminating on the basis of race. If the Court’s decision interprets affirmative action as a violation of the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, this could restrict the University’s and its peers’ ability to consider race in the admission process.
McDonough said that the University, along with its Ivy League colleagues and six other private universities and colleges, filed an amicus curiae brief arguing that race is an important consideration in the admissions process.
He added that the University filed the brief in part to protect its own admissions practices.
“The principle that diversity is a compelling interest ... is embedded in our holistic review process, and we believe that the Court should continue to respect our academic freedom to select from among the many thousands of excellent applicants who are qualified for admission,” McDonough said.
Last week, the Court heard arguments in the case in which white Louisiana State University student Abigail Fisher claimed she was denied admission from Texas’s flagship public university based on her race.
The University of Texas’s current admissions policy automatically accepts all in-state applicants in the top 10 percent of their high school’s graduating classes regardless of race or any other consideration. If an applicant is not in the top ten percent of her class, as was Fisher, she is considered among a pool of other applicants where race is one of the considerations.
Under this “10 percent plan,” whites compose 50 percent of the class and the remaining 50 percent is composed of minorities.
An amicus brief submitted by 37 other private colleges — including Amherst College, Tufts University and Williams College — expressed concern as to the potential of the Court’s decision to impact their admissions policies as well.
“A decision condemning Texas’s admissions procedures might well be taken — depending on how it was written — to confound and restrict amici’s effort to assemble diverse student bodies,” the brief read.
McDonough and the general counsel representatives of Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Yale comprised the coordinating committee that drafted and submitted an amicus brief to the court in August on behalf of the large “amici” group of the 14 elite private institutions. The coordinating committee worked with outside counsel Seth Waxman who was the former Solicitor General during the Clinton Administration.
Waxman did not respond to a request for comment.
The Fisher case has sparked many amicus briefs that side with the University of Texas and argue that the Court should not retreat on its previous recognition of the benefits of ensuring a diverse student body through considering race in admissions.
In addition to the briefs submitted by the Ivies and the liberal arts colleges, briefs were submitted by 17 U.S. senators, 66 members of congress, Teach for America, 57 Fortune 100 companies and nearly 1,000 other individuals or institutions.
Seventeen briefs were submitted in support of petitioner Fisher.
The brief submitted by the University notes that neither Princeton nor any of its amici colleagues’ admissions policies use race or ethnicity as the sole factor in the decision to admit a student. Moreover, the brief adds that none of the amici reserve slots in an admissions class for individuals of a certain race so that no candidate is admitted or rejected on the basis of his ethnicity or race.
“It is worth noting that in our brief we underscore the distinction between our individualized, holistic review of the whole applicant and how the applicant would contribute to fulfilling the educational mission of the institution and mechanistic proposals like the Texas 10 percent Plan which are impracticable for us, particularly since we receive applications from far more applicants who are qualified by objective measures than we could ever hope to admit,” McDonough said.
In the previous two college admissions affirmative action cases in which the Supreme Court deliberated, the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case in 1978 and the Grutter v. Bollinger case in 2003, the University submitted an amicus brief in favor of race considerations in admissions.
The University’s brief turned out to be influential in the Bakke case. Then-Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. found that the plan outlined in the brief was constitutionally valid while quotas to fill minority seats in an admissions class were not.
In his decision supporting affirmative action, Powell quoted an article by former University President William Bowen GS ’58 that said a large amount of meaningful learning occurs because of interaction between people of different races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The brief that was most recently submitted by the University and others includes a quote from the 2005 Opening Exercises Address given by University President Shirley Tilghman.
“The reason [the Admission Office] took such care in selecting all of you — weighing your many talents, your academic and extracurricular interests, your diverse histories — was to increase the likelihood that your entire educational experience, inside and outside the classroom, is as mind-expanding as possible,” the brief quotes Tilghman as saying.
In the 2003 affirmative action case, former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the swing vote in the 5-4 decision to uphold the University of Michigan Law School’s consideration of race in admissions. Justice Elena Kagan ’81 will recuse herself due to a potential conflict of interest since she formerly served as the dean of Harvard Law School. It is expected that Justice Sonia Sotomayor ’76 will vote in favor of keeping race a consideration in college admissions.