A picture of Representative Sheila Jackson Lee
Sheila J.
Democrat TX 18

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  • In Support of Affirmative Action and Campus Diversity

    by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    JACKSON LEE of texas in the house of representatives Wednesday, December 9, 2015 Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, this morning I was at the Supreme Court observing the oral arguments in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, No. 14-981.

    The issue to be decided in the Fisher case is whether the undergraduate admissions policy of the University of Texas at Austin complies with the principles established by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).

    In Grutter, the Court held that ``obtaining the educational benefits of `student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.' '' 539 U.S. at 325.

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be a representative from a state that has played a pivotal role in the Supreme Court's educational equity jurisprudence, beginning with the landmark case of Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950), won by Thurgood Marshall and which held that segregated law schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and laid the foundation for the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

    Mr. Speaker, I would urge the Supreme Court to uphold the admissions policy of the University of Texas at Austin because affirmative action is needed to ensure the diversity on college campuses that will yield diversity in the ranks of America's future leaders.

    In a globalized and increasingly interconnected world, the nation that succeeds is the one best positioned to adapt to a world of differences--cultural, religious, economic, social, racial, and political.

    The key to success in a diverse global economy is learning to adapt and thrive in diverse communities where the next generation and its leader are educated and trained.

    And that is why it is critical that the Court uphold the principle it established in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2002 that diversity in higher education is such a compelling governmental interest that race- conscious admission policies are permissible if other alternatives are found to be inadequate.

    This is the situation presented by the facts in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which was reargued before the Court today.

    Although the University of Texas's consideration of race is very narrow--just one of many factors in the admissions process--its impact has been significant in advancing educational benefits flowing from a diverse student body.

    From 1997 to 2004, affirmative action in admissions at the University of Texas was barred by the infamous Fifth Circuit decision in Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th. Cir. 1996).

    As a result of the University of Texas's inability to consider a qualified applicant's race in the admissions process, between 1997 and 2004 African-American students never comprised more than 4.5% of the entering class--far below the 13% of Texas high school graduates who are African Americans.

    Worse yet, for the students attending the University of Texas, during that period, 4 out of every 5 of classes (79%) at the University had zero, or only one, African-American student.

    Mr. Speaker, this is not the way to produce a generation of leaders for the 21st century.

    With the Supreme Court decision in Grutter, the University of Texas could add race to other criteria considered in its individualized admissions policy.

    And behold the results--28% of African Americans enrolled at the University were admitted at this stage of admissions process, a stark contrast to the 4.5% of the student body represented by African Americans in the preceding 7 years.

    Mr. Speaker, affirmative action works; it is the right thing to do for our country.

    Fostering educational diversity and greater opportunity is critical to our nation's future in a global economy and an increasingly interconnected world.

    That is why diversity is supported by a broad cross-section of American society, including military leaders, major corporations, small business owners, educators, and students from all backgrounds.

    An America that celebrates diversity in higher education will! produce the leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, diplomats, public servants, and teachers that will serve our nation well in the global economy of the 21st century.

    And of the most important things that can be done to ensure this bright future is for the Supreme Court to affirm the judgment of the 5th Circuit and uphold the admissions policy of the University of Texas.


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