On October 10, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. Texas, a case that challenges the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions policies. While the ruling, likely to come in June, may alter only Texas policies, it has the potential to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, which in 2003 upheld race as one of many permissible factors in higher education admissions.
The National Black Law Students Association, representing some 6,000 law students, was one of many groups to rally outside the Court that day. If the admissions policy is struck down, Kendra Brown, national chair of NBLSA, predicts a drastic impact not only on schools but professions across the board. In an amicus brief, the NBLSA responded to claims that students of color admitted under such policies underperform academically by emphasizing that in fact “people under perform when social and historical cues conspire to tell them they are less than competent.”
No fewer than seventy-three amicus briefs were filed defending race-based admissions, from groups including Teach for America, the Anti-Defamation League, the League of Women Voters and the American Jewish Committee, as well as many universities, student groups and members of Congress. Even Fortune 100 corporations and businesses filed briefs, as racial diversity is increasingly associated with profits. (Only seventeen briefs were filed supporting Fisher.)
Defenders of affirmative action often argue that diversity benefits the community. But more important , affirmative action scrutinizes the myth of meritocracy to address historically institutionalized racial disparities. The outcome in Fisher will have much to say about whether we can expect institutionally backed equality of education for future generations.