Higher-Education Groups Urge Supreme Court to Preserve Race-Based School


The American Council on Education joined at least 19 other
higher-education groups on Tuesday in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to
preserve race-conscious public-school assignments in two cases seen as
potentially affecting affirmative action at colleges. 

The amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," brief submitted by the
council is one of several from higher-education groups and scholars
urging the high court to uphold the power of schools to consider race in
the two cases, which involve schools in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle.
Among the others that have filed briefs in support of the school
districts in recent days are the American Educational Research
Association, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University
School of Law, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and 19
former chancellors of campuses of the University of California. 

In addition, more than 550 social scientists and researchers have
signed on to a separate brief, submitted Tuesday, which argues that
students and their communities benefit from integrated schools. 

On the other side of the issue, briefs opposing the two school systems'
race-based assignment of students were filed last month by the U.S.
Justice Department, the National Association of Scholars, and several
other groups and individuals that have led the fight against
race-conscious admissions at the college level. They include the
American Civil Rights Institute, the Center for Equal Opportunity, the
Center for Individual Rights, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and the
scholars Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom. Most of those briefs challenge
the view that race-conscious school-assignment policies offer clear
educational benefits and argue that such policies violate the U.S.
Constitution's equal-protection clause. 

The two cases are the first involving racial preferences at educational
institutions taken up by the Supreme Court since its landmark 2003
rulings in two cases involving race-conscious admissions policies at the
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (The Chronicle, July 4, 2003).
College lawyers are looking to the Supreme Court's rulings in the two
cases for hints of how two new members of the court, Chief Justice John
G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., might rule on any future
disputes involving affirmative action at colleges. 

It is also possible that the Supreme Court's rulings in the
public-school cases, involving lawsuits filed by parents who contend
that using race as a factor in school assignments is unconstitutional,
might provide colleges with guidance on how to apply the Supreme Court's
2003 decisions, or might suggest that the Supreme Court is open to
revisiting its Michigan rulings sometime soon. 

The American Council on Education's brief argues that the Supreme Court
should show the educational judgments of the Seattle and Jefferson
County, Ky., school districts the same deference that it showed toward
higher education in the University of Michigan cases and in its other
landmark ruling on affirmative action in college admissions, the
University of California Board of Regents v. Bakke decision of 1978. The
council's brief asserts that students who attend diverse elementary and
secondary schools "are better prepared for the demands of higher
education and are more likely to attend desegregated colleges," in
addition to being better able to understand the falsity of stereotypes
and having "a greater sense of civic and political engagement." 

Among the 19 other higher-education groups that had signed on to the
brief as of late Tuesday afternoon were the American Association of
Community Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and
Universities, the American Association of University Professors, the
Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the College Board, and
the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Officials at
the council were seeking on Tuesday night to add to the brief a 20th
group, the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant
Colleges, which had been left off the version submitted earlier in the
day through a clerical error. 

In its separate brief, the American Educational Research Association
argues that research supports the idea that diverse elementary and
secondary schools provide enough educational benefits that the
government has a compelling interest in allowing race-conscious school
assignments. A similar argument was offered in the statement signed by
more than 550 social scientists and submitted to the Supreme Court on
Tuesday by scholars affiliated with the Civil Rights Project at Harvard

The brief submitted by the former University of California chancellors
argues that a Supreme Court decision striking down race-conscious school
admissions policies would impede efforts to make enrollments more
diverse at selective colleges. 

Briefs in support of the two school systems have also been submitted by
several civil-rights groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense and
Educational Fund, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.