Race-based university admissions policies keep producing lawsuits.
After a nine-year hiatus, the controversial issue involving the use of race as a criteria for college admissions is back before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court this week decided to hear the appeal of a Sugar Land, Texas, woman who was denied admission to the University of Texas while the school admitted lesser-qualified students as part of its efforts to increase UT's minority enrollment.
The last case of this nature to come before the high court, Grutter vs. Bollinger, was in 2003. That's when the court decided in a 5-4 vote that an applicant's race could be one of a number of factors used to organize a law school class at the University of Michigan.
That decision was especially notable because of the assertion by then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who joined the majority, that the use of race as an admissions factor was so distasteful that it should be terminated after 25 years.
What's interesting about the Texas case is that the university had successfully addressed its affirmative-action goals for student admissions using race-neutral criteria before deciding to expand its desired numbers through raced-based criteria.
After a 1996 high-court decision struck down UT's quotas for enrollment of minority students, the Texas legislature passed a bill mandating that any student who finished in the top 10 percent of his high school class would be admitted to UT. Under that race-neutral criteria, UT's minority population jumped to more than 20 percent of incoming classes.
UT officials, however, increased the school's numerical goals for minority students, further deciding that they be extended beyond the class itself to individual student majors and classroom makeup.
It is that supplemental program that is under challenge in the lawsuit filed by Abigail Fisher, who attends Louisiana State and is scheduled to graduate this year.
At least two key questions will be posed to the court in the legal briefs and oral arguments, which are scheduled for October.
The first is whether the clearly stated numerical goal of having a minority student population that matches the state's minority population goes beyond the Grutter vs. Bollinger determination that race can be used as one of a number of factors in student admission.
The second, much larger question is whether the Grutter vs. Bollinger precedent should be overturned as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's declaration that all citizens, regardless of race, are equal before the law.
Depending on how the court rules, Fisher vs. University of Texas could be either a ground-breaking legal precedent that will affect scores of affirmative action programs at universities across the country or just another speed bump in the long and complicated legal road addressing affirmative action, reverse discrimination and remediation of past discrimination.