Affirmative action case in court's hands
01:06 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Supreme Court looks at case asking if admissions policies violate rights of white applicants

Some groups worry conservative majority will strike down or severely limit affirmative action

A larger debate is whether race-conscious policies serve their ultimate purpose of helping minority students

Decision could come in coming days as part of busy end to Supreme Court term

CNN  — 

Heman Marion Sweatt and Abigail Noel Fisher both wanted to attend the University of Texas at Austin, and both claimed race was a primary reason for their rejection.

They filed civil rights lawsuits and the Supreme Court ultimately agreed to hear their appeals, filed more than a half-century apart.

Questions over academic competition, fairness, and demographics as well as the role of government in promoting political and social diversity populated their claims.

But it is the key difference between the plaintiffs that now confronts the court: Sweatt was African-American, Fisher is white.

The justices are poised to rule this month in Fisher’s appeal, possibly in coming days, on the use of race in college admissions.

Sweatt’s 1950 case produced a landmark court ruling that set the stage for the eventual end of racial segregation in public facilities.

The question around Fisher could come down to whether a majority believes affirmative action has run its course, no longer necessary in a country that has come far to confront its racially divisive past.

“There’s a good chance that affirmative action, at least in the case of education, is on the chopping block,” said Thomas Goldstein, a Washington appellate attorney and editor.

Read selected quotes from arguments

“The Supreme Court 10 years ago approved the use of race as a factor. But it’s just changed. [Now retired Justice] Sandra Day O’Connor isn’t there and she was the decisive vote. And the current conservative majority is just very suspicious of the use of race in government decision-making,” Goldstein said.

Specifically in Fisher, do race-conscious admission policies at the University of Texas, the flagship state college, violate the rights of white applicants?

Other, similar cases on docket </