Texas affirmative plan faces scrutiny at US Supreme Court
The US Supreme Court has questioned the University of Texas' use of race in admissions in a case that could lead to new limits on affirmative action.
The Supreme Court justices heard arguments from Abigail Fisher, a white Texan who contends she was discriminated against when the university did not offer her a spot in 2008.
Justice Anthony Kennedy – whose vote could be decisive in the challenge – was skeptical of Texas' defence of the program that uses race as one among many factors in admitting about a quarter of the university's incoming freshmen.
"What you're saying is what counts is race above all," Kennedy said.
Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was among the hundreds of spectators at the arguments. O'Connor wrote the majority opinion in a 2003 case that upheld the use of race in college admissions.
Justice Samuel Alito, O'Connor's successor, has voted consistently against racial preferences since he joined the court in 2006.
Among the liberal justices who looked more favourably on the Texas admissions system was Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She told Bert Rein, Fisher's Washington-based lawyer, that he was looking to "gut" the nine-year-old decision.
Near the end of the session, Chief Justice John Roberts complained, "I'm hearing a lot about what it's not. I would like to know what it is."
The university says the program is necessary to provide the kind of diverse educational experience the high court has previously endorsed. The rest of its slots go to students who are admitted based on their high school class rank, without regard to race
Opponents of the program say the university is practicing illegal discrimination by considering race at all.