ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, on behalf of 14 states, is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold racial preferences in college admissions.
The court is scheduled to hear arguments Oct. 10 in a lawsuit by Abigail Fisher, a white student who was not admitted to the University of Texas in 2008. Fisher is challenging the university's admissions policy as a violation of her civil and constitutional rights.
The court's ruling will be its first on affirmative action in higher education since 2003.
"The states all share a strong interest in preserving the flexibility of their varied institutions to pursue a range of strategies to achieve the educational benefits of diversity in higher education," Schneiderman and state Solicitor General Barbara Underwood said in a brief filed late Monday. They noted that public schools like the State University of New York, ranging from community colleges to research universities, enroll about 72 percent of post-secondary students nationally and play an especially important role for students with modest means.
Other states joining the brief were Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"To successfully fulfill their long standing role in providing public higher education, states must have the freedom and flexibility to create strong institutions tailored to the needs of each particular State and its citizens," Schneiderman wrote. "In striving to meet these objectives, the states have learned, through decades of experience, that the existence of a diverse educational community enriches the learning environment for all students and better prepares them to excel in a heterogeneous world."
Texas admits most of its students because they rank among the top 10 percent in their high school classes. Fisher's grades did not put her in that category. For other students, Texas officials say that race is considered among many factors, including academic record, personal essays, leadership potential, extracurricular activities, and honors and awards. The school says race is not used to set quotas, which the high court has previously rejected.
The Texas policy has been upheld by a federal appeals court, which said it was allowed under the high court's decision in Grutter vs. Bollinger in 2003 that upheld racial considerations in university admissions at the University of Michigan Law School. Fisher appealed to the current Supreme Court, which is considered to be more conservative than the one that ruled in 2003.
The Justice Department, in a court brief co-signed by several other government agencies, told the high court Monday that a diverse college population was in the university's — and the government's — best interests. "The armed services and numerous federal agencies have concluded that well-qualified and diverse graduates are crucial to the fulfillment of their missions," Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli said.