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Supreme Court hears landmark affirmative action case

In Fisher vs. University of Texas, the court may limit or ban using race in university admissions

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Area students hold signs during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Supreme on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments on Fisher V. University of Texas at Austin and are tasked with ruling on whether the university's consideration of race in admissions is constitutional. (MARK WILSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court cast doubt Wednesday on whether it would uphold the use of affirmative action in university admissions.

The justices heard oral arguments in the case of Abigail Fisher, a white student from Texas, who claimed she was rejected from the state's university system in favor of less qualified minority applicants. 

“There were people in my class with lower grades, who weren't in all the activities I was in, who were accepted into UT. And the only difference between us was the color of our skin," Fisher told NBC News.

The university argued it needs affirmative action to ensure a "critical mass" of minorities in its classes, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Justice Anthony Kennedy could be the critical vote in the outcome. According to AP, at one point Kennedy said Texas was arguing that race counts "above all." 

A decision in favor of Fisher could spell a major setback for the use of racial preference to achieve diversity on the nation's college campuses.

She arrived at the high court Wednesday while advocates on both sides of the issue held up signs in the court plaza. 

One man held an "End Affirmative Action Now," while another women held a "Diversity (equals) Success" sign, reports AP.

Court watchers expect a narrow decision siding with Fisher now that the dynamics of the Supreme Court have changed. 

Back in 2003, the court upheld the use of race in the University of Michigan Law School's admissions policy. The 5-4 decision was written by the moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who retired in 2006 and was replaced by the more conservative Republican appointee Samuel Alito.

Alito has consistently voted against race-conscious decision making by the government, reports the New York Times.

According to the New York Times, Chief Justice John Roberts has also been a vocal critic of using race to draw legislative districts.

He called it "a sordid business, this divvying us up by race," and in assigning students to public schools, saying that "the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Justice Elena Kagan, who previously dealt with the case as solicitor general in the Obama administration, has recused herself from Fisher vs. University of Texas.

Without Kagan, it will be difficult for the university to get more than four votes, making it unlikely to win the case.  

A decision is not expected until the spring. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/121010/supreme-court-hears-landmark-affirmative-action-