U.S. Supreme Court hears affirmative action case - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

U.S. Supreme Court hears affirmative action case

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Affirmative action has been an issue for decades, but this week a controversial case comes before the U.S. Supreme Court that could change college admissions processes.

Abigail Fisher, a white woman, is suing the University of Texas at Austin (UT). She was denied admission there in 2008. Her claim is that minority students with lower grades and fewer qualifications were admitted, due to their race.

"I hope the court rules that a student's race and ethnicity should not be considered when applying to the University of Texas," says Fisher.

On Wednesday, the court began hearing arguments in the case, while demonstrators rallied outside, and civil rights advocates spoke out for affirmative action.

"[I'm] hopeful the court will not in effect turn back the clock on racial equality and diversity in this country," says Al Sharpton.

The university says race is one of many factors in its admission decisions, as well as test scores, community service and work experience. Officials say it's part of an effort to create a diverse campus.

UW-Madison law school professor Larry Church says it's going to be a difficult case for the court, and doesn't expect any sweeping changes to affirmative action across the country.

"Perhaps likely that the court will not definitively try to resolve for once and for all the whole debate, because it's still a very lively debate," says Church.

Church believes the court could rule either way. He says it's unlikely the justices will take a hard position in either direction, but if they do it could change the way institutions like UT go about maintaining diversity on campus.

The justices aren't expected to rule in the case until at least early 2013.

Church says the UW has taken the right steps towards racial diversity on campus.

Last year, a group based out of Virginia looked at admissions at UW, and reported that the university discriminates by giving preference to black and Hispanic students over white and Asian students, regardless of test scores. At that time, UW officials disrupted the data, but did say they give preference to certain students based on affirmative action.

UW students on the College of Agriculture and Life Science Equity and Diversity Committee say Fisher doesn't have a justified argument.

In an email to 27 News, Yuriy Velichkin says while it is up to the court to decide, he believes Fisher's claims to be wrong.

"I feel that, from the information given in the article, Miss Fisher cannot possibly know that the only difference between her and other students who were accepted was race," says Velichkin. "If the court finds that UT did in fact accept candidates who were identical to Miss Fisher in every way besides race, then that would prove that the reason she didn't get accepted was because of the affirmative action policy."
 
In an email, Eiman Elmileik on that same committee says there is no way to prove Fisher was not accepted because of her race.
 
"I think affirmative action is strongly needed in college admissions," says Elmileik. "American society is not yet race-neutral, without affirmative action there would be little diversity in universities which would further set minorities back in this country."
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