US court upholds university's affirmative action plan

AFP
Plaintiff Abigail Fisher (L) speaks to the media after the US Supreme Court heard arguments in her case on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC
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Plaintiff Abigail Fisher (L) speaks to the media after the US Supreme Court heard arguments in her case on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC (AFP Photo/Mark Wilson)

Washington (AFP) - A US federal appeals court upheld the use of race for admissions to the University of Texas, a year after the Supreme Court ordered a closer look at the sensitive practice.

In June 2013 the highest court gave a partial but temporary victory to a white student who had complained that she was denied a place at the prestigious university because of the color of her skin.

It remanded the case to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals to review its first ruling but the court ruled Tuesday the university had justified its limited use of "affirmative action" to achieve greater diversity.

"We are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience," said the court decision.

"We find force in the argument that race here is a necessary part, albeit one of many parts, of the decisional matrix."

The appeal court also noted that Abigail Fisher's scores "were too low for admission to her preferred academic programs at UT Austin... If she had been a minority the result would have been the same."

But it is not necessarily the end of the episode and the case could go back before the Supreme Court if Fisher appeals.

In last year's ruling, the Supreme Court elected not to rule on the constitutionality of using race in university admissions, instructing a lower court to look at the question again.

Its decision left unchanged the principle of affirmative action, an enduring legacy of the 1960s civil rights movement intended to give African-Americans a leg up in applying for jobs and education.