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Supreme Court Hears Case On University Of Texas Affirmative Action Plan

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Nine years after the Supreme Court upheld the use of affirmative action in college admissions, the High Court once again took up the issue Wednesday. Washington bureau reporter Erin Billups filed the following report for NY1.

For the second time in a decade, the Supreme Court has taken up the issue of affirmative action in higher education, a debate that calls into question the country's core beliefs on race.

"The impact of this decision will be way beyond the boundaries of the campus of the University of Texas," Rev. Al Sharpton said.

But petitioner Abigail Fisher, the woman behind this most recent chapter of the polarizing debate, says it is quite simple.

"A student's race and ethnicity should not be considered when applying to the University of Texas," she said.

During arguments, which went a full 20 minutes over the allotted 1-hour time frame, the court's more conservative justices pressed the University of Texas at Austin for a limit, when it will meet its "critical mass" or what level of diversity is enough.

"The idea of critical mass took on an incredible high degree of salience today,” Tejinder Singh of SCOTUS Blog said. “And I think the inability to offer an objective set of indicators is going to be damaging to the university here."

U.T. officials argued secondary racial consideration is necessary because their top 10 percent plan, giving automatic admissions to students at the top of their high school classes, failed to adequately bring in enough minority students to avoid racial isolation and provide students with a rich, diverse learning environment.

"We have made a great deal of progress and throughout the United States, but there is still is a need to make sure that our campuses, our military and our businesses are diverse," said Bill Powers, the president of the University of Texas at Austin.

The consensus among many present during arguments is that there will likely be some change to affirmative action policies as a result of this case.

"I think it's very difficult to count four votes for upholding the university's program,” Singh said. “I think the most likely result is that the program will be overruled in part."

Justice Elena Kagan is recused from the case, which means the court could split four to four, meaning the university's policy stands.

The vote, though, is expected to turn on Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose questions during arguments were quite critical of race as a consideration.

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