Although they make up only a fraction of the 150 points in the University admissions selection index, the 20 points received for race comes under attack in the Center for Individual Right’s brief in Gratz v. Bollinger.
CIR will present its oral arguments in the case, challenging the University’s undergraduate admissions policies, before the U.S. Supreme Court April 1.
“The automatic award of a fixed preference to every member of a specified racial or ethnic group is nothing like what Justice (Lewis) Powell approved in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke,” the brief states. “Indeed, he rejected the systematic award of preferences, based solely on race or ethnicity, that the University’s preferences entail. Justice Powell voted to strike down the quota system under consideration in Bakke.”
But University Assistant General Counsel Jonathan Alger said race is not heavily weighted, especially considering the fact that an applicant’s academic credentials comprise 110 points.
“There’s no way that 20 out of 150 is the overwhelming factor,” Alger said. “The Supreme Court is unlikely to fix in on a particular number.”
The legacy of the 1978 Bakke decision remains at stake as the trial approaches. The plaintiffs repeatedly claim that the University misinterprets Powell’s opinion, speaking for the majority of the court, that race can be used as one of many factors in deciding admissions. CIR questions the meaning of Powell’s statement that race could be meant as a factor.
“I think that universities have attempted to distort the meaning of Bakke,” CIR spokesman Curt Levey said.
But Alger added that the University modeled its admissions system after that used by Harvard University where race could be used as a plus factor, as proposed by Powell. “I think it’s important to point out that Bakke did actually specify guidance,” Alger said. “It’s possible that they could decide to clarify Bakke.”
The brief also emphasizes that diversity is a vague principle and cannot be narrowly and properly defined in college admissions systems.
“To justify the use of race and ethnicity as considerations in admissions on the basis that diversity is a compelling interest would be to make a substantial and dramatic break from this Court’s articulated equal-protection principles. It would infringe on fundamental rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and the other civil rights statutes at issue here,” the brief states.
The plaintiffs use the minority opinion from the Bakke decision to help their cause, showing that there is no difference between quotas and the addition of points in the selection index.
“There is no sensible, and certainly no constitutional, distinction between, for example, adding a set number of points to the admission rating of disadvantaged minority applicants as an expression of the preference with the expectation that this will result in the admission of an approximately determined number of qualified minority applicants and setting a fixed number of places for such applicants as was done (at Davis),” Justice William Brennan wrote in Bakke.