Thursday, May 22, 2008

Longhorns Facing a Legal Challenge on Race and Ethnicity

The envelope arrives in the mail. You open it with trembling fingers as your parents watch the expression on your face for clues as to what information the letter’s contents might hold. For students in Texas who are not in the top ten percent of their class and therefore not guaranteed admission to a state public university, this scenario is quite familiar. As it stands now, the decision found in that envelope may be based in part on your race and ethnicity. Two high school seniors and their attorneys are looking to put a stop to that practice.

The Supreme Court case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) determined by a 5-4 decision that race could be one of many factors used to determine admissions but that racial quotas were discriminatory and, therefore, unconstitutional.

More recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2003 (based on two lawsuits brought against the University of Michigan Law School) that there is merit to a diverse student body. The efforts to create such a population must be "narrowly tailored" after "good faith consideration" of race-neutral qualifications.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks is the man given the task of interpreting the Supreme Court’s language for Texas’ institutions of higher learning, and he is not thrilled with the circumstances. In his words, “I feel like I'm out walking in a snowstorm barefoot.”

The white students challenging the current admission policies are claiming a violation of their constitutional and civil rights. The two young women believe that they are both more qualified for admission than some of their peers who were accepted, in some small part, based on race.

This is a contentious issue that stirs up plenty of emotion among students, parents and administrators. With offices in Austin, Houston and San Antonio, you can be certain that the attorneys in our firm will be following this story closely.

A ruling in this case is expected shortly, but I do not expect the issue of race and college admissions to disappear anytime soon. But stay tuned!

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