Students Discuss Affirmative Action Case

While the oral arguments may be over for the Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the conversation has certainly not ended for Harvard undergraduates.

About 40 students gathered at the Institute of Politics on Friday night to consider the high profile legal case that has called into question race-based affirmative action policies in undergraduate admissions processes.

The Court’s ruling on the suit, filed by Abigail Fisher, a white woman denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin, could affect Harvard’s own admission policy, said Law School professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin, who led the discussion. Earlier this year, Harvard filed an amicus brief in support of the University of Texas.

“If the Court decides to overturn Grutter, the decision would have an impact on Harvard because it would presumptively prohibit the use of race in private universities covered by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” she said after the discussion, referring to the Court’s decision to uphold the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy in the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger case.

Brown-Nagin, who specializes in constitutional law, kicked off the conversation with an overview of how the Court’s changing ideology has affected this case, saying that the increased number of conservative justices played a role in the reconsideration of affirmative action less than a decade after Grutter v. Bollinger.

From there, Brown-Nagin addressed the various arguments both for and against affirmative action policies. In particular, Brown-Nagin rebutted the suggestion that race-based affirmative action places a negative “stigma” on minority students.

Brown-Nagin also discussed a number of ways the Supreme Court could rule, ranging from a four-to-four tie—which would effectively rule in favor of the University of Texas admissions policy—to ruling in favor of Fisher.

Regardless of whether or not the ruling may affect the Harvard admissions process, Brown-Nagin said that students should follow this case since it “relates to so many social, political, and cultural currents of today.”

Madeline C. Connors ’15 said she attended the event because she has had a number of discussions about the Fisher case and wanted to further her understanding of the implications it may have on admissions. “This was a topic that came up in my classes, with my friends,” Connors said, “so I came to talk to people and see what they have to say about it.”

Angela S. Berkowitz ’15, who coordinated the event, has followed the case closely and hopes other students will too. “I think this is a really interesting case of how history can be made, so it’s important to know what’s going on,” she said.

Henry H. Wang ’15, described the discussion as “enlightening” and said he now has a more “inside view on what the Supreme Court feels”.

As to how they thought the Supreme Court was going to rule, responses varied with many saying they are unsure.

Jacob T. Morello ’15 believes the Supreme Court should rule in favor of race-based affirmative action. “We haven’t quite reached the place where college admissions are completely unbiased, but I think we’re well on our way,” he said.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in late spring of next year.

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