US Supreme Court sends back affirmative action case

WASHINGTON, June 24,  (AFP) - The US Supreme Court elected not to rule on the constitutionality of using race and ethnicity in university admissions on Monday, instructing a lower court to look at the question again.Its decision left unchanged the principle of "affirmative action," an enduring legacy of the 1960s civil rights movement originally meant to give African-Americans a leg up in applying for jobs and education.

The policy however was never given an end date; and in ever more highly diverse America, in some states -- such as California -- whites are now are a minority.For some Americans in a country which now has its first African-American president, as well as a lasting legacy of slavery, it is increasingly less clear whom should be given special consideration, or when fair is maybe something other than absolute equality.

In the case before the court, Abigail Fisher, a white student denied admission to the University of Texas, alleged its use of race in deciding admissions violated her constitutional right to equal justice under the law.Writing the nearly unanimous decision laced with legal technicalities, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Texas "must assess whether the university's favor was appropriate."

"There must still be a further judicial determination that the admissions process meets strict scrutiny in its implementation," he added.The Court of Appeal had previously ruled in favor of the prestigious state university, declaring that Fisher had not suffered discrimination as a result of an admission policy that favored racial minorities.

Seven of the nine Supreme Court justices agreed to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal. One disagreed, while Justice Elena Kagan excused herself because of her prior support of affirmative action as US solicitor general.Attorney General Eric Holder said, "I am pleased that the Supreme Court has followed longstanding precedent that recognizes the compelling governmental interest in ensuring diversity in higher education.
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"The educational benefits of diversity are critically important to the future of this nation. As the Court has repeatedly recognized, diverse student enrollment promotes understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, enables students to better understand people of different races, and prepares all students to succeed in, and eventually lead, an increasingly diverse workforce and society," said Holder, who is African-American.

The Supreme Court last took up the controversial issue of affirmative action in 2003, reaffirming a 1978 decision that race-based quotas did not violate the Constitution."This is a win for the principles of opportunity, diversity, and equality," the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a major civil rights organization, said Monday.

"However, the Court added a wrinkle by sharpening the standard that universities must meet, requiring colleges to show there were no 'available, workable race-neutral' alternatives available to them," it added."The Court sent the case back to the lower court to determine whether the University of Texas admissions policy meets this standard."

When she applied to attend the university, Fisher -- whose father and sister were among alumni there -- was not among the top 10 percent of Texas high school graduates who are guaranteed places.Her legal team argued that she was denied second-tier admission in favor of other applicants with lower test scores and grades, who were accepted on the basis of racial preference for under-represented minorities.

The university's argument was that race was just one of many factors it considers when selecting new students.Fisher, who ultimately graduated from Louisiana State University, claimed in her court filing that she "suffered an injury that falls squarely within the language and spirit of the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.

"It alleged that the university's admission program "favors two groups, African-Americans and Hispanics, in one of the most ethnically diverse states in the United States."Some 70 motions were filed with the Supreme Court in support of the University of Texas from colleges, human rights groups and businesses as well as by the US government, attesting to the case's importance.

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