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Supreme Court to rule on race as a factor in deciding who's admitted to college

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Abigail Fisher, the Texan involved in the University of Texas affirmative action case, and her attorney Bert Rein exit a hearing on the issue at the Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday, Oct. 10. AP

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By Reuters
Sunday, April 28, 2013, 8:51 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court could issue a ruling on affirmative action as early as Monday, 35 years after the justices set the terms for boosting college admissions of blacks and other minorities.

The case before the justices was brought by Abigail Fisher, a white suburban Houston student who asserted she was wrongly rejected by the University of Texas at Austin while minority students with similar grades and test scores were admitted.

The ruling is the only one the court has yet to issue after oral arguments in cases heard in October and November — the opening months of the court's annual term, which lasts until the early summer.

A decision might be made as early as Monday, before the start of a two-week recess.

As hard as it is to predict when a ruling will be announced, it is more difficult to say how it might change the law. Still, even a small move in the Texas case could mark the beginning of a new chapter limiting college administrators' discretion in using race in deciding on admissions.

For decades, dating back at least to the Kennedy administration of the 1960s, leaders have struggled with what “affirmative action” should be taken to help blacks and other minorities. In the early years, it was viewed as a way to remedy racial prejudice and discrimination; in the more modern era, as a way to bring diversity to campuses and workplaces.

Since 1978, the Supreme Court has been at the center of disputes over when universities may consider applicants' race.

In that year's groundbreaking Bakke decision from a University of California medical school, the justices forbade quotas but said schools could weigh race with other factors.

In another seminal university case, the court in 2003 reaffirmed the use of race in admissions to create diversity in colleges.

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