Political Animal


October 10, 2012 11:21 AM Will Republicans Exploit College Admissions Case?

By Ed Kilgore

As you probably know, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a case that many have predicted will produce a judicial ban, or at least major new restrictions, on race-based admissions policies for colleges and universities. To make a long story short, a white student rejected by the University of Texas Law School as part of a secondary pool of applicants competing on criteria in which race was one of many factors is asking the Court to ban race-conscious admissions policies—however secondary—altogether. And this is on a Court with three members who were part of the dissenting minority in a 2003 case narrowly upholding use of race as “one factor” in college admissions, and led by a Chief Justice who once famously said of all race-conscious remedies for discrimination: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

And so, as is often the situation, it’s expected the decision will turn on the unpredictable views of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who’s said in the context of K-12 desegregation efforts that racially classifying students may be constitutionally permissible if it’s a “last resort.” So his questions and comments during oral arguments will be watched and interpreted closely by the Kremlinologists of the High Court.

But much as this case could prove to be a judicial landmark, I’m interested in its potential political significance, right here, right now. With the presidential contest tightening, and Republicans focusing more intently than ever on white non-college-educated low-information undecided voters, it’s got to be tempting to inject this case and its racial content like a toxin directly into the bloodstream of Campaign 2012. The pretext, if any is needed, is that the Obama Justice Department has filed an amicus brief fully supporting the University of Texas and its current admissions policies.

I suggested week before last that exploitation of this case could represent an “October Surprise” for Republicans. That’s still the case, even if the GOP’s electoral situation is a bit less perilous than it was when I expressed this concern. As everyone is watching the Court today, it’s worth watching the major political actors—and particularly conservative media—as well.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Perspecticus on October 10, 2012 11:36 AM:


  • Peter C on October 10, 2012 11:37 AM:

    "Will Republicans Exploit ..."?

    Uh ... yeah! DUH! Do they do ANYTHING else???

    They don't 'govern', they 'rule' by exploiting fears and by nurturing hatreds.

  • c u n d gulag on October 10, 2012 11:43 AM:

    I have no faith that this won't be politicized by the "Four/Five Justices of the Apocalypse."

    There have been a couple of pleasant surprises, like Hamdi, and ACA, but the SCOTUS has become as much a political tool as the DNC and RNC - sadly, with the "D's" in the minority most of the time.

    And, since this case involves minorities, I fully expect to have Scalia make amends with Roberts if he sides with him on this issue, and a few other coming up soon.

    Obama has to win, and replace Ginsberg.

    And then we all have to hope that either Kennedy or Scalia or Thomas either retire, and can be replaced by, if not Liberals, at least not radical right wing Nihilists - or croak - or else this country is competely screwed.

    I'm sorry to have written that, because I don't wish death on anyone - or, at least not many people.

  • Rip on October 10, 2012 11:48 AM:

    I doubt it. The Romney team is using their momentum from the debate to reframe Romney as a sensible moderate, knowing that the newfound enthusiasm on the right will trump any immediate concerns that he isn't a "real" conservative.

    The last thing they want to do is bring up the culture war again. They will be hammering the "Obama is in over his head" meme for all it's worth in order to exploit any doubts about Obama among squishy voters that surfaced in the wake of the debates.

    They already have the "resentment vote", what they need now are fence sitters and Republican leaning indifferent voters who will only show up for Romney if they feel he's a winner with a positive agenda. They were the ones abandoning him when he looked like "Mr. 47% loser".

  • Mark L. on October 10, 2012 12:07 PM:

    Fisher was actually applying to U of T Austin as an undergrad, not law school. This is an important detail since the school automatically admits seniors in the top 10% of their high school class. One of the main arguments is that racial considerations for the remainder of the seats is unconstitutional.

  • Ceres on October 10, 2012 12:07 PM:

    I am not at all surprised that this is happening in Texas, of all places.
    Texas, where there are more white people (most with decent to considerable amounts of money) than black or Hispanic folk who can claim the same, and the majority of those white people have this Texas-born-and-inbred sense of superiority.
    'Oh, you let one of the few black applicants for this in instead of me, and even though I slightly less qualified look at me, I am /white/ and am therefore obviously more deserving!'
    Racism, folks; I do not like it any more than any of you, but I know better than to believe that ignoring it when it happens will make it go away.

  • Gandalf on October 10, 2012 12:08 PM:

    At some point in time reality and common sense have to start winning oveer whining and false persicution. let a few minorities into colleges based on race makes absolute sense at this time. That is unless you want to make sure that they are a permanent underclass.

  • Gandalf on October 10, 2012 12:10 PM:

    Befor anyone goes nuts I got a little anxious and spelled persecution wrong.

  • T2 on October 10, 2012 12:13 PM:

    @Gandalf "That is unless you want to make sure that they are a permanent underclass."
    well, somebody has to maintain the lawn at Gov. Perry's Niggerhead Ranch.

  • estamm on October 10, 2012 12:22 PM:

    I think that stopping race-based admissions at colleges would be ok IF:
    1) being a 'legacy' (which overwhelmingly favors whites) cannot be a factor at ALL in admissions
    2) income CAN be used as an admissions criteria.

    Those two things would really level playing fields quite a bit. If people don't want affirmative action any more, then dropping the 'legacy' system must go along with that, since the 'legacy' system is really affirmative action for rich white kids. (See Bush, W.)

  • martin on October 10, 2012 12:25 PM:

    Have you not heard the wingnuts calling Obama an "affirmative action" president? What do you think all of the nonsense about releasing his college transcripts is about? OF COURSE the Republicans are going to exploit this. It is what they do.

  • Texas Aggie on October 10, 2012 1:58 PM:

    Texas doesn't use race. It says that the top students from every high school are automatically admitted to the state school of their choice (typically TAMU or that sorry school in Austin) or something very similar. Since TX high schools are often segregated by happenstance, that in effect means that minorities like African Americans and Hispanics get into the state schools ahead of students from other high schools who had better national test scores.

    It amounts to de facto affirmative action, but if you ignore de facto in other circumstances, you have to ignore de facto in this one.

  • TCinLA on October 10, 2012 1:59 PM:

    As I understand it, the entitled little "Big Rich Texas" bimbo who brought this case couldn't have gotten into UT Law even if the policies had been changed as she wants.

  • TCinLA on October 10, 2012 2:04 PM:

    Since TX high schools are often segregated by happenstance,

    Only someone who could pass the IQ test low enough to be an Aggie would be dumb enough to say something like that.

    Isn't that the school where the idiots killed themselves because they couldn't even build their bonfire right?

  • HelpMeUnderstand on October 10, 2012 3:33 PM:

    I assume that this is a rhetorical question as even the most pedestrian observer of politics knows full well that the GOP will exploit any and every race angle at its disposal, particularly if said angles feeds into the ludicrous notion that somehow "unqualified and undeserving" blacks (and, latinos and even women as well) are somehow taking an "entitlement" away from hard working, deserving whites...Actually, I am really surprised that this case has gotten even more coverage and I anticipate someone from the MSM or the GOP asking the President for his position on said issue...