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US Supreme Court considers key case for fostering racially diverse universities

US Supreme Court justices have considered a case that could decide the fate of programs aimed at fostering racially diverse university campuses. Their ruling is due next June.

Supreme Court justices have considered if the affirmative action policy at the University of Texas at Austin violated the US Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment under the law.

Wednesday's session lasted 30 minutes longer than usual with some of the court's conservative judges voicing doubt over the success of affirmative action, its long-term value and whether it could harm some minority students.

The court appeared sharply divided as it considered if race and ethnicity could be used in deciding college admissions, a practice known as "affirmative action."

The case under consideration was brought by a white applicant named Abigail Fisher who was denied admission in 2008. Fisher graduated in 2012 from her second choice school, Louisiana State University. She now works in Austin. "I don't believe students should be treated differently because of their race," Fisher said on Wednesday as she attended the hearing.

Her lawyers have argued that the university's policy favors some black and Hispanic applicants and is therefore unconstitutional as it considers race as a factor.

Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia suggested some black and Hispanic students could be hurt by the program as they could be better off attending "slower track" schools where they could prosper: "I don't think ... it stands to reason that it's a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible," Scalia said.

The case has been closely followed with a number of business and education interests supporting affirmative action.

Increased diversity

The most vocal supporter of the Texas program was Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor who listed some of the reasons university officials gave in favor of increased diversity; including concerns about race-related incidents on campus and minority students complaining about feeling isolated.

The number of black students enrolled at the University of Texas nearly doubled between 2004 and 2007, due partly to affirmative action. Just six percent of the student body is black. The percentage for the whole state is 12 percent.

The court's only black justice, Clarence Thomas, remained silent throughout Wednesday's hearing.

The court's ruling is due next June.

jm/bw (Reuters, AFP)

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