(CNN) — The race-conscious admissions policy at the University of Texas appeared to be in trouble on Wednesday after the conservative Supreme Court majority repeatedly questioned its continued application and effectiveness.
The Justices heard oral arguments in an affirmative-action case that explores whether the flagship state university’s admissions practices aimed at creating campus diversity violate the rights of some white applicants.
Abigail Noel Fisher sued the school after her application was rejected in 2008 when she was a high school senior in Sugar Land, Texas.
Fisher claimed the individualized, discretionary admission policies violated her rights, and favored African-American and Hispanic applicants over whites and Asian-Americans.
Fisher just missed the opportunity of automatic admission to the main campus at Austin for in-state students finishing in the top 10% of their high school graduating class. So, she had to compete in a separate pool. It is that selection process that is before the court.
The Supreme Court was clearly divided along ideological lines about whether affirmative action essentially has run its social and legal course, and should no longer be used in the way schools like Texas and others have done.
“You’re trying to gut it,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said to Fisher’s lawyer, suggesting a university deserves some flexibility to create the kind of diverse campus environment it wants.
But Chief Justice John Roberts repeatedly asked, “When will we know you’ve reached a ‘critical mass'” of African-American and Hispanic students to satisfy that goal. “When will we know you’ve reached a logical end point?”
The university defends its policy of considering race as one of many factors in admissions — such as test scores, community service, leadership and work experience.
A ruling in the case is not likely before early next year.
The Supreme Court said in 2003 that state universities can narrowly set up their admissions policies to consider an applicant’s race.