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US Supreme Court upholds affirmative action program at Texas varsity

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In a landmark ruling, that will go a long way in establishing racial inclusion and ethnic diversity in university admissions in the US, the Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas at Austin. The ruling gives supporters of affirmative action a major victory.

“Affirmative action” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “the practice of improving the educational and job opportunities of members of groups that have not been treated fairly in the past because of their race, sex, etc”.

A Reuters report says that the University of Texas admissions policy includes criteria that are geared towards a racially and ethnically diverse student body and to help students from under-privileged backgrounds with a chance at getting a good education.

Abigail Fisher, a student who had been denied admission in 2008, filed a case against the university, alleging that her constitutional right to equal protection under the law was affected as black and Hispanic students who were less qualified than her were given admission at the university.

The university authorities claimed that as Fisher was not in the top ten percent of her High School graduating class, she would probably have not made the cut in any case.

According to the judgment pronounced by Justice Anthony Kennedy, if the university had not included the specific rules that were objected by Fisher, it would not have been able to meet its diversity goals.

The decision, by a 4-to-3 vote, was unexpected. Justice Anthony M Kennedy, the author of the majority opinion, has long been skeptical of race-sensitive programs and had never before voted to uphold an affirmative action plan. Among the dissenting judges was African-American origin judge, Justice Clarence Thomas. Another dissenting judge, Justice Samuel Alito’s reasons for dissenting were that the university’s policy allowed wealthy minority students to benefit.

In India, a similar issue was dealt in the Indra Sawhney vs Union of India case by the Supreme Court. The Indian Supreme Court had held that the “creamy layer” amongst the reserved categories was not entitled to the benefits of reservation.   

President Barack Obama hailed the verdict. He said that he was pleased that the Supreme Court had upheld the basic notion that diversity is an important value in their society and that the US should provide high quality education to all students regardless of their background.

India Legal Bureau

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