The Supreme Court’s decision to hear arguments in the lawsuits challenging the University’s admissions policies marks the first time in nearly 25 years it will revisit the use of race in college admissions.

In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that race could be used as one of several factors when evaluating applicants, while it denied the use of racial quotas.

In his majority opinion, Justice Lewis Powell specifically found creating a diverse educational environment to be a compelling state interest and ruled that subsequent policies must be narrowly tailored to meet this interest.

University Assistant General Counsel Jonathan Alger said the Court will examine two factors in making its decision – the educational benefits diversity has provided at the University and the degree to which policies have been carefully developed in accordance with the Bakke decision.

“Our policies have been narrowly crafted to comply with Supreme Court precedent,” he said.

The Court’s decision could determine the degree of discretion universities have in crafting admissions policies with the goal of diversity in mind, Duke University Law Prof. Jerome Culp said.

“It puts into play the whole question of what voluntary actions universities can take,” he said.

Wayne State University law Prof. Robert Sedler said while none of the litigants are opposed to diversity, the conflict centers on how a diverse campus can legally and effectively be achieved.

“It’s a question of whether the University can use race to achieve racial diversity or whether it has to use factors that correlate with race,” he said.

For instance, laws in Texas and other states require public universities to accept the top 10 percent of all high school classes in their states in order to enroll students from many different backgrounds.

While University lawyers will appeal to the Court’s desire to follow precedent, the intervenors in the lawsuits will argue that the problem to be addressed goes beyond diversity.

Miranda Massie, lead attorney for intervenors in the Law School case, said remedying the effects of past and present racial discrimination is an equally compelling state interest.

“We’re the only party that’s been prepared to expose the multitude of ways in which racism shapes and distorts every aspect of the educational experience, including admissions criteria,” Massie said.

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