Mitchell Reports | October 10, 2012
>>> and it has been almost a decade since the supreme court landmark decision to permit race to be considered in college admission decisions. the court will hear -- is once again hearing an affirmative action case involving public university . this time it is the university of texas at austin . a white student abigail fisher rejected from the school claims the admission process was unconstitutional and this time, sandra day o'connor the moderate justice the centrist who spearheaded the majority decision upholding affirmative action almost ten years ago is no longer on the bench. joining me is nbc's justice correspondent pete williams . bring us up to speed.
>> justice o'connor no longer on the bench but was in the courtroom. i would like to know what she's thinking after this morning's arguments. there were really two questions before the court . one is, are they going to overrule that decision that she wrote nine years ago for a closely divided court that said while generally speaking government can't make a distingsion on race it can do so in school admissions because getting a racially diverse campus provides a better education. that was the court 's holding. after the argument today it seems clear the court is not going to go and overrule that precedent but the problem many of the justices had is how do you know when you have enough diversity. the university of texas has an unusual system. it automatically admits anybody who graduates in the top 10% academically of any high school in texas. that gets a fair amount of diversity on campus because many of those schools tend to be racially more uniform, predominantly black or hispanic and tend to get diversity. the problem for perhaps the majority of the justices how do you know when there's enough diversity. what the school says is, we don't want merely diversity in numbers. we want african-american students who are interested in fencing and speaking greek and studying architecture and hispanic students who are great fencers or ballet dancers . we want diversity in other words within the mere racial numbers. and i think for a majority of the court the question is how do you know when you're there, how do you know when you no longer need affirmative action . in a sense it was the question left unanswered in the court 's decision nine years ago although that decision said maybe in 25 years we won't need this, and i think for many justices on the court the question is do we still need that kind of intense affirmative action now. one other note i would just say, elena kagan sat this out. just eight justices so if there's a tie the university of texas prevails because it won in the lower courts. did it seem like five justices are going to say we need to take another look at this university of texas system .
>> the university of texas system could decide in narrow way this system is special or different and not make it a universal ruling that affects all universities. i want to say that from my own knowledge your knowledge, we're both active in university decision making and admissions and universities argue and we'll hear from the university of texas austin president who spoke after the arguments, bill powers, they argue that diversity is a value not only for the minorities, so-called minorities, but that white majority students get a better education from being educated in a complex class, that this is a better education and better preparation for the world at large. that is part of their argument. let's hear from president powers from the university of texas .
>> hour lawyers made the case to the justices that the diversity ethnic and otherwise, benefits all of the students on our campus. we made the case and the university of texas has crafted an admissions policy that includes race as one of many factor factors and meets the strict guidelines established by this court in the decision nine years ago.
>> the grudser decision the plaintiff in that case in the university of michigan you referred to. when do you think we would be getting decisions? this will be something decided some time this spring, you think?
>> could be by december. it has the advantage of being argued early, only the second one week of this court 's term but this is going to be a tough one. i would say yes, not before next spring, maybe at the end of the term like when all the other big ones come out.
>> and, of course, everyone watching closely and these are usually unformed opinions from the outside speculating that justice roberts after what happened on the big final decision of last year's term on health care , will be wanting to prove his bona fide to the majority again and a lot of noise out there which --
>> of course this is all -- and he's already been on record many times as calling -- these sorts of affirmative action this sort dids business of dividing us up by race. he looks scent taically at affirmativioe action programs.