The Supreme Court is poised to rule on whether the U.S. Constitution guarantees affirmative defense in courtrooms.
A three-judge panel of the justices on Tuesday heard oral arguments on a case involving an affirmative defense brought by a former student who was denied admission to a prestigious public university because of his race.
The case is the first time the court has heard a case that deals with affirmative defense.
In the course of the trial, a witness testified that the University of Alabama used racial bias to deny him admission to its public universities.
The witnesses were the only people who could confirm that the admissions office was discriminatory in its decision to deny the plaintiff admission to the university, which has more than 100,000 students.
The Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments in the case in the federal courthouse in Birmingham.
A panel of three judges from the 4th U. of S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, also is scheduled to rule later this month on whether to hear a similar case involving a former college student who is suing the University at Buffalo, one of the nation’s largest public universities, for discrimination in admission policies and other issues related to race.
“It is our job to ensure the equality of opportunity for all,” University at Bills President Jerry DeStefano said in a statement following Tuesday’s hearing.
“The Supreme Court will decide if there is a fundamental right to affirmative defense that goes beyond the protections guaranteed by the Constitution.”
The students’ case, University of California v.
Grisham, is the latest to be heard in the high court in recent years.
In January, a three-justice panel of a lower court agreed with the students that affirmative defense could be established in court by arguing that the university acted in an unconstitutional manner by denying them admission.
In a ruling in July, a five-justice majority ruled that affirmative defenses were not unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The three judges who heard the Grishams case disagreed with the lower court, finding that affirmative action programs are not racially discriminatory and that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated a compelling interest in denying the students admission to higher education.
The court has been debating affirmative defense laws and whether to uphold or strike them down for years.
Some colleges and universities, including the University, have passed laws to make affirmative defense an option for students who are facing a college or university disciplinary decision.
The Grishameses are not the only students who have faced racial discrimination at colleges and other institutions.
Earlier this year, a woman in North Carolina sued the University after being denied admission because she is black.
The state supreme court upheld the decision, finding no discrimination in admissions.
The U.K. and a number of other countries have laws on the books that make affirmative defenses an option.
The majority of U.N. schools and some universities have also passed laws that allow affirmative defense as an option in admissions decisions.
For instance, the U-M System of Higher Education, the largest private university in the U, has passed a law that allows students to request a hearing if they think that they were denied admission due to their race, ethnicity or national origin.
In response to a complaint from a student at a U-Mich.
campus who claimed that a professor at her school discriminated against her in a series of decisions, the school fired the professor and expelled the student.
“We have to be able to get out of this, to get justice,” she said in an interview.
“I just don’t know how.”