Retired generals, Fortune 500 corporations and states across our country joined with higher education leaders, University of Texas alumni, social scientists, civil rights groups, students and the United States government Monday in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the university's narrowly tailored use of race as one, non-predominant factor in its admissions decisions.
In more than 60 separate amicus friend of the court briefs, the supporters argue that the U.S. military, small and large businesses, and society as a whole would benefit from the increased diversity and strong workforce that are nurtured by a holistic admissions process at UT Austin and other American universities. That process is being challenged in the case of Fisher v. The University of Texas, which the Supreme Court will hear in October.
"While this case focuses on university admissions, its impact dramatically transcends academia," wrote a group of retired military, Department of Defense and national security leaders, including former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, Gen. Colin Powell and Gen. Henry Shelton.
"In evaluating the constitutionality of respondents' limited consideration of race in admissions decisions, amici respectfully submit the Court should consider the military's interests. Fulfillment of the national security interest in officer corps diversity must not be imperiled by a sweeping ruling against race-conscious admissions."
A group of nearly 60 leading American businesses including Dell Inc., General Electric, Microsoft, Pfizer, Xerox and Southwest Airlines were equally forceful in discussing the benefits to companies and the economy.
"For amici to succeed in their businesses, they must be able to hire highly trained employees of all races, religions, cultures and economic backgrounds," they wrote. "It also is critical to amici that all of their university-trained employees have the opportunity to share ideas, experiences, viewpoints and approaches with a broadly diverse student body.
"To amici, this is a business and economic imperative."
University President Bill Powers said: "We are delighted and thankful by this show of support. These amicus briefs demonstrate that this is a very important issue that will guide where America is going in the future."
The plaintiff in the case claims that she was denied undergraduate admission to the university in 2008 because she is white. But the facts show otherwise. In its brief filed last week, the university argues that its admissions system, which considers an applicant's race along with many other factors in an individualized, holistic review, is a constitutional practice that promotes the educational benefits of diversity at the university.
That brief explains that the university's policy meets the standards set out by the Supreme Court in 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger and earlier in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Those decisions prohibit racial quotas but acknowledge the importance of diversity and allow universities to consider race among multiple factors while admitting students.
The university's individualized and modest policy is indispensible to the university's mission to educate the future leaders of Texas and the country. The policy avoids the concerns about specific targets for minority admissions that Justice Anthony Kennedy raised in his dissent in Grutter and is a necessary supplement to Texas' Top 10 Percent Law, which guarantees automatic admission to top graduates of the state's public high schools.
Officials from California argue in an amicus brief that their universities and state have suffered since the use of race in admission was banned by the state more than a decade ago.
"In a highly selective institution, implementing race-neutral policies leads to a substantial decline in the proportion of entering students who are African American, American Indian and Latino," the Office of the President of the University of California System wrote.
The relatives of Heman Sweatt also filed an amicus brief warning about the consequences if the Supreme Court rules against Texas. Sweatt was among the first African American law students at The University of Texas at Austin and only gained admission after a historic court ruling in his favor in 1950.
"Heman Sweatt's legacy lives on at UT and in Austin. Symposia, scholarships, a courthouse, and a side of UT's campus bear his name," they write. "But it is UT's commitment to creating a genuinely diverse student body one based on a holistic review of applicants' unique history and persona, not just their race that best honors Heman Marion Sweatt."