The Project 21 black leadership network joined a brief submitted last Monday to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a case asking the Court to revisit race-based admissions standards at colleges and universities.
“What’s to be decided in this latest challenge to race-based preferences is something very fundamental — should an applicant to a college or university be rewarded or penalized simply because of the color of their skin,” said Project 21 spokesman Joe R. Hicks, a former executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission. “The U.S. Supreme Court skirted this essential issue in 2003 when it faced the issue of racial preferences in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger.
Now, in Fisher v. University of Texas , while not frontally challenging the Court’s 2003 ruling, what’s being asked is that race neutral standards be applied before any pandering to ‘diversity’ occurs. What’s factually clear is that had Abigail Fisher been black or Hispanic she would have been eagerly accepted to the University of Texas. Instead, she was rejected. No matter how you parse it, this amounts to discrimination.”
Project 21 joined an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The brief was written by the Pacific Legal Foundation and, in addition to Project 21, has been joined by the Center for Equal Opportunity, American Civil Rights Foundation and National Association of Scholars.
In the case of Fisher v. Texas, plaintiff Abigail Fisher, who is white, claims that racial preferences in the University of Texas at Austin enrollment process in 2008 caused her to be rejected in favor of lesser-qualified candidates who are racial minorities. Her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court seeks to determine if UT’s race-based admissions policy presents a “compelling, otherwise unsatisfied, government interest and narrow tailoring to advance their interest” as it pertains to the equal protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Race-based admissions were outlawed in Texas in 1996 by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Hopwood decision. Afterward, in 1997, Texas legislators passed legislation signed by then-Governor George W. Bush that granted automatic public college and university admission to high school students in the top ten percent of their graduating classes. This law is credited with increasing black and Hispanic enrollment above pre-Hopwood levels. On June 23, 2003, however, the day the U.S. Supreme Court cited a “compelling state interest” for certain classroom diversity standards in its ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, UT officials announced they would re-introduce racial considerations into the application process.
“Color-coded admission standards are unnecessary, and they have no role in the 21st century. Such race-based standards send the wrong message to our youth – that a person’s skin color matters more than one’s character and merit,” said Project 21 Fellow Deneen Borelli. “Proposing special treatment to one group while denying another group access based on race is discriminatory against all parties and may lead to race-based animosity.”
The brief Project 21 joins states that the lower court decisions in this case conflict with previous U.S. Supreme Court interpretations because they interpret public universities as always having a compelling interest to promote “racial diversity” and are not required to give “serious, good faith consideration to less restrictive race-neutral policies.” “Review is crucial,” the brief argues, “to restore meaningful limits on government’s authority to discriminate based on race.”
In explaining the perversion of the Court’s Grutter ruling, the brief notes:
Instead of viewing Grutter as a warning to exhaust race-neutral alternatives before adopting a race-conscious admissions plan, the University of Texas viewed Grutter as a blueprint for creating race-conscious measures as a first option… The Fisher panel abandoned narrow tailoring when it ignored the need for the University to seek out race-neutral alternatives before resorting to a race-conscious admissions policy. This Court should grant review to clarify thatGrutter does not sanction this race-first attitude in university admissions.
The brief points out how Proposition 209, a ballot initiative passed by California voters in 1997 that outlawed public university admissions preferences, forced schools at the elementary and high school level to offer more preparation for minority students This preparation is credited with increasing minority university enrollment to pre-1997 levels. This non-discriminatory approach is similar to the Texas top top-percent law abandoned by UT in 2003.
“There is no harm in seeking diversity across our institutions of higher learning. The danger, however, is when diversity is sought and defined in terms of race only,” said Project 21 spokeswoman Lisa Fritsch , who lives in Austin. “What can one person offer in terms of humanity and diversity that is race-specific? What can one race provide in terms of uniqueness that another cannot? Individual persons should be judged based on their unique set of accomplishments and achievements according to the standards set by the university irrespective of race. Otherwise, it isn’t true diversity that is gained, but instead looming suspicion and an interior statement that a true academic and mental equality cannot exist between human beings. The compelling interest is to make sure we are not a society that continually says minority students are unable to meet required academic criteria and expectations that other students are deemed able and held accountable.”
Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives since 1992, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research.