The Supreme Court is looking at you

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Editor’s note: The Daily Texan editor-in-chief is elected by students each year. The election ensures that UT students get the newspaper they want and an editorial board that represents their interests. This year, two candidates are vying for the position: Susannah Jacob and Shabab Siddiqui. To better inform our readership, we asked the candidates to write a column on a topic of their choice. Vote online Wednesday and Thursday at http://utexasvote.com.

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Abigail Fisher’s challenge of UT’s undergraduate admissions policy.

Fisher objects to UT’s consideration of the race for applicants who fail to gain automatic acceptance through the top ten percent rule. By doing so, Fisher alleges UT violates her Constitutional rights to equal protection.

A 21-year-old white woman, Fisher, now a senior at Louisiana State University, applied unsuccessfully to UT in 2008. Then, as a Sugarland high school student, she earned a grade point average that put her in the top 11 percent of her class.

When the court hears the Fisher case in November, UT and its admissions policy will come under national scrutiny. The court will evaluate the intricacies of how UT students gain admission. Because the Fisher case will reflect on UT students, they should know the following:

*Fisher contends UT discriminates against Asians and white applicants, who are not underrepresented minorities and therefore have less of a chance of admission than non-top 10 percent applicants who are black, Hispanic or Native American.

*Fisher has not asserted a class action claim so she is asking the court to determine what damages only she, as an applicant in 2008, suffered, not what all the rejected UT applicants in subsequent years have suffered; Rachel Michalewicz, another rejected UT applicant, who initially filed the complaint as a co-plaintiff with Fisher, dropped out of the litigation.

*UT contends all that Fisher should gain if she prevails: the $100 housing deposit and application fees she paid.

*Fisher alleges she lost more including in-state tuition discounts as well as her constitutional rights.

* A 2003 Supreme Court case remains key to understanding the Fisher arguments. In that case, the court ruled against Barbara Grutter, a white woman denied admission into University of Michigan Law School.

In that decision, the court approved limited use of race in admissions to “further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” In response, UT began in 2004 to use race in its admission considerations of non-top 10 percent students like Fisher.

Long before Fisher though, UT, race, and admission policies drew national attention. In 1940s, the UT School of Law denied Heman Sweatt admission because he was black.

When Sweatt sued, alleging that UT failed to provide equal facilities (at the time there was no black law school at the University), UT hurried to open a black law school in Houston to meet Sweatt’s demands. But the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 1946 that the newly created law school was unequal to UT’s.

Fifty years later, the Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court’s ruling in favor of Cheryl Hopwood, a white woman who alleged that affirmative action policies the UT School of Law violated her constitutional rights. By doing so, the court effectively barred what was then UT’s affirmative-action practices. In response, to maintain and achieve further diversity on campus, the Texas State Legislature passed in 2007 the Top 10 Percent law.

Throughout that history, UT students have voiced their views about the courts, race and admissions. During the Sweatt trial, then UT student body president Jim Smith led some 2,000 who gathered to protest the black man’s rejection. Supporters of UT’s discriminatory policy had predicted that white law school students would ostracize Sweatt if he gained admission. But Smith told the crowd, “Heman Sweatt is my friend now, and he will be my friend after he is admitted to the University of Texas!”

Will UT students again gather on the mall en masse? Will chants support Fisher or UT? Either way, take time to understand the nuances of the questions the Fisher case poses.

Jacob is a history junior.