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Universities File Brief on Supreme Court Admissions Policy Case

Supreme Court  “…Considering an applicant’s race or ethnicity as a factor (but not a defining one) in a holistic review of a student … [allows universities] to more fully realize their missions of recognizing the dignity and uniqueness of each person during the admissions process,” states the friend of the court brief Georgetown joined.

October 9, 2012 – Arguing that diversity is crucial to “the intellectual, moral, and religious development of its students,” Georgetown and seven other Catholic universities have filed a friend of the court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case being heard tomorrow on admissions policies that consider race.

In Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et. al, the United States District Court upheld the university’s use of race-conscious admissions policies, and the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision.

The Supreme Court agreed this past February to hear what could end up being a historic case.

Supporting Race-Conscious Admissions

Over 70 amicus or "friend of the court" briefs were filed in support of the University of Texas and in support of the continued use of race-conscious admissions.

These include briefs supported by United States senators; members of Congress; Fortune 100 and other leading American businesses; small business owners and associations, such as Teach For America; and leading public research universities. 

Georgetown joined with Fordham, Boston College, DePaul, Holy Cross, Marquette, Notre Dame and the University of San Francisco on an amicus brief that articulated important First Amendment arguments in support of the University of Texas.

Diverse Dialog

“Central to our university mission and Jesuit tradition is the firm belief that serious and sustained dialog among students of different races, faiths and cultures enhances intellectual, ethical and spiritual understanding,” said President John J. DeGioia. “The universities who offer this brief encourage the highest court in the nation to confirm that ideal.”

Jesuits founded six of the universities that filed the brief  – Georgetown, Boston College, Holy Cross, Fordham, Marquette and the University of San Francisco.

“[The universities] believe that race-blind admissions practices frustrate or impede the achievement of a diverse student body,” the brief states. “…Considering an applicant’s race or ethnicity as a factor (but not a defining one) in a holistic review of a student … [allows universities] to more fully realize their missions of recognizing the dignity and uniqueness of each person during the admissions process.”

First Amendment Rights

The brief may be unique among others in that it argues that “…the wrenching legal and public policy debate about university admissions policies that take account of race to some degree or other…” has failed to consider the First Amendment in the case.

“Academic freedom has frequently be said by this Court to be a ‘special concern of the First Amendment,” the universities note.

“We urge specifically that when a university (especially a private university) determines that a constitutionally permissible goal – such as diversity within its student body – is essential to providing the highest quality education experience for its students,” the brief states, “a university’s judgment about whether a race-conscious admissions program is necessary to achieve that goal should not be easily ignored.”

Major Court Case

The press has speculated that the decision could have a wide-ranging effect.

“Should the Supreme Court disavow it, the student body at the University of Texas and many other public colleges and universities would almost instantly become whiter and more Asian, and less black and Hispanic,” Adam Liptak wrote in an Oct. 15, 2011 New York Times article.

The student body making up Georgetown’s undergraduate class of 2016 is the most diverse in history. Of 1,580 enrolled students, 33.5 percent are minority students.

Good-Faith Determination

The court case originated after Abigail Fisher and another white applicant were denied admission and sued the University of Texas in 2009, alleging they had been discriminated against on the basis of their race.

The plaintiffs stated that the university’s decision violated the Equal Protection Clause of the country’s Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The second applicant has since withdrawn from the case.

“We urge that First Amendment interests can be accommodated and Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI interests still vindicated providing, as this Court often has, a degree of deference to a university’s good-faith determination as to how to further its academic mission,” the brief explains.

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