Washington: The United States Supreme Court upheld on Thursday college and university admission reservation based on race in a verdict that could adversely impact Indian-Americans, and in a verdict in a separate case, blocked President Barack Obama’s immigration reform programme.
In the long-awaited verdict issued in Washington on a case challenging University of Texas using race as a criterion in admitting students, the judges ruled, 4-3, that higher education institutions can implement such policies known as affirmative action favouring minorities like African Americans and Latinos to promote diversity.
To get into elite universities, Indian-American and other Asian-American students have to outperform even white students because of the use of race in admissions to ensure diversity, community groups contend and have filed court cases against it and complained to the federal government. The Supreme Court decision is likely impact these cases.
In the immigration case, the court blocked Obama’s executive decision that permitted about four million illegal immigrants whose children were born in the US to remain in the country and be exempt from deportation.
Texas led 26 states in challenging Obama’s decision to bypass the the Congress to launch the first phase of his immigration reform aimed at eventually allowing as many as 11 million people who are living here illegally to stay on.
The Supreme Court judges were deadlocked 4-4, and this allowed a federal appeal court ruling against Obama’s order on the parents of US-born children who get automatic citizenship.
Illegal immigration is a hot button issue in the presidential election campaign. Donald Trump, the likely Republican candidate, has called for expelling all illegal immigrants before allowing some of them back after a screening.
“This is a major setback to President Obama’s attempts to expand executive power, and a victory for those who believe in the separation of powers and the rule of law,” said Ken Paxton, the attorney general of the Republican-dominated Texas state.
Obama defended his executive decision at a news conference asserting that he was forced to take the action because the Republican-controlled Congress would not act on his immigration reform proposals.
The Pew Research Center has estimated that 450,000 Indians in the US are illegal immigrants.
The university admissions case was initiated by a white woman who was denied admission to the University of Texas. She challenged its affirmative action programme asserting that considering race as a factor in admissions violated the constitutional guarantee of equality for all because it gave some races special preference.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion: “Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission.”
To ensure diversity, elite universities set academic standards for Asian students that are higher than that for even whites to prevent high-scoring Asians dominating the universities. A study by a Princeton University academic that found Asian-American students had to score 140 points more than whites in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a common entrance exam.
Indian diaspora organisations, along with other Asian groups, complained to the federal government about what they said was the discrimination faced by students from their communities in admissions to Harvard University.
The Federal Office of Civil Rights dismissed the complaint pending the outcome of a federal case on similar grounds was filed last year by another group, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), against Harvard and its outcome will be binding. That group has also filed a similar case against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In the Harvard case, the university has asked the court hearing the case against it to delay the proceedings till the Supreme Court decided the Texas University case. The Supreme Court verdict will influence the outcome of the court cases and the federal complaint.
Global Organisation of Persons of Indian Origin, National Federation of Indian-American Associations, American Society of Engineers of Indian Origin and BITS Sindri Alumni Association of North India were among the Asian community groups that filed the federal complaint.