KT Buckler of Sonoma Academy


In a little over a year’s time, I will be nervously awaiting college acceptance letters. I have a 4.3 GPA, am bilingual and participate in numerous extracurricular activities. These sound like the kind of things colleges are looking for, right? Not necessarily, given that my skin is white.
In 2008, a white female, Abigail Fisher, was denied admission to the undergraduate program at the University of Texas at Austin. She had a 3.9 GPA but did not qualify for automatic admission under the Top Ten Percent Law, which automatically admits the Texas high-school seniors ranked in the top 10 percent of their class. Fisher sued UT, and last month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in her case. The court should bring clarity to the field of higher education by finding the UT plan — and all other affirmative action plans — unconstitutional as a violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
In 2008, the top 10 percent admits made up 81 percent of the entering freshman class at UT. Under current Supreme Court precedent, Grutter v. Bollinger, UT is able to admit a “critical mass” of minority students to obtain “diversity” within the student body. The Top Ten Percent Law has been a race-neutral means for UT to achieve racial diversity. Minority admits make up about 40 percent of the Top Ten students, but UT wants to achieve a “critical mass” of minority students that mirrors the racial demographics of the state as a whole. Thus, when Fisher competed with other Texas residents for the remaining admissions seats, many received racial preference for being a minority. Although Fisher’s application was stronger than many admitted minority students, she still was rejected.
Judge Emilio Garza, in a “special concurrence” to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the plan, argued that UT’s use of race to fill the remaining seats “has had an infinitesimal impact on critical mass in the student body as a whole.” Only 8 percent of the in-state minority students at UT were admitted using a race-conscious admissions system, and many of those 8 percent students were admitted according to their scores-showing that even fewer were affected by the racial preference. For UT to satisfy Grutter, it must show racial preference is necessary to satisfy diversity.
Furthermore, it is unconstitutional for a school to set a quota system to achieve the desired minority level. In Grutter, the University of Michigan Law School argued it was permissible for them to employ a racially discriminatory preference system because they were not looking to fulfill a quota but instead satisfy what they deemed a “critical mass” to achieve diversity within the student body. But for the school to be determining what constitutes a “critical mass” of minority students, they must be aiming for some certain relative percentage or number, just as UT does in trying to mirror their student diversity with that of Texas.
If Grutter was overturned, if would give UT’s policy no legal standing as to why it was able to ignore one of the most fundamental protected rights in our society: “No state shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” I believe UT’s policy has slid too far down the slippery slope of what constitutes equal protection versus that which is truly racial discrimination.
The Supreme Court soon will make a decision that will most likely take effect the year I apply to college. I could be among the first to travel through the admissions process with a new precedent guiding race-neutral policies.
In the words of Fisher, “the success of a non-racial approach is not a theoretical matter-it is a manifest in the record.” Like her, I have confidence in a system that judges on character rather than color.