The Obama administration weighed in on affirmative action for the first time at the Supreme Court on Monday, urging that university admissions preferences for qualified black and Latino students be upheld.
“Race is one of many characteristics (including socioeconomic status, work experience and other factors) that admissions officials may consider in evaluating the contributions that an applicant would make to the university,” U.S. Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr. said in his brief, siding with the University of Texas.
In October, the high court will hear the appeal of Abigail Fisher, a rejected white applicant who sued the Texas university alleging she was a victim of illegal racial discrimination.
In the past, President Obama has given mixed signals on affirmative action. During the 2008 campaign, he said his two daughters should not receive preferences, because of their privileged background, but other students who faced disadvantages, including low-income whites, should get special consideration.
Verrilli’s brief defends the Texas university’s focus on Latinos and African Americans because they were “substantially underrepresented in the student body.”
Only eight justices will decide the Texas case. Justice Elena Kagan, who was Obama’s solicitor general when the administration supported Texas in a lower court, will not participate. If the court were to split 4 to 4, the lower court’s decision in favor of the University of Texas would stand.