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Admission policy ruling could go to Supreme Court


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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A Monday court ruling that struck down the University of Georgia's admission policy will likely have little impact outside the state, a legal analyst said.

But the case may still be unresolved, one education expert said. If the university chooses to appeal, the case could go before the Supreme Court.

In the latest in a series of court cases involving university admissions, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday struck down the University of Georgia's freshman admissions policy, saying it unconstitutionally favored minority and male students.

The three-judge panel ruled unanimously in favor of Jennifer Johnson, Aimee Bogrow and Molly Ann Beckenhauer, three white women who were denied admission to the university in 1999. All eventually were granted admission, but only Johnson and Bogrow chose to attend.

University of Georgia President Michael F. Adams said he was disappointed with the ruling.

"Sometimes you are defined by the battles in which you engage rather than by those you win . We certainly respect the court, but may have a differing opinion about whether the university's admissions program is narrowly tailored," Adams said in a report by The Associated Press.

Georgia case could go to Supreme Court

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The 11th Circuit covers Georgia, Alabama and Florida. University of Alabama counsel Norma Lemley said she is still studying the ruling but said she does not think it would apply because Alabama is under a federal desegregation order. Florida does not use race as a factor in university admissions.

Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education, said the University of Georgia case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Steinbach wrote an amicus brief supporting the university's admission policy.

The high court refused to hear two affirmative action cases earlier this year.

In May, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the University of Washington's admissions policy challenged by a white student who claimed reverse discrimination. Washington voters passed Proposition 200 last year that banned race and gender preferences.

In June the court chose not to consider Texas v. Hopwood in which the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled race could not be used as a factor in university admissions. The state decided after the ruling to end its affirmative action policy.

"Both of those cases had infirmities to them; the Georgia case does not," Steinbach said. "So if the University of Georgia chooses to appeal, it provides a record that the Supreme Court could, if it chooses to, hear."

A federal appeals court is scheduled to hear two Michigan cases in the fall. In one, a judge ruled the University of Michigan Law School's admissions policy was unconstitutional; in the other a judge upheld the university's undergraduate program.

Attorney blasts policy as 'quota'

Lee Parks, the attorney for the three women challenging the University of Georgia's policy, said the school's system was unfair.

"For the last 26 years, Georgia has given an objective numerical preference to minority students to try to rectify their segregated past. So you've got 26 years of an unlevel playing field," Parks told CNN Tuesday.

"At some point in time you've got to take away the artificial construct and say, 'Let's all play ball on a level playing field.'"

The University of Georgia used a numerical system called the total student index, or TSI, to decide whether to admit students whose grades and test scores were not high enough to qualify for automatic admission.

The TSI awarded points for factors such as whether the applicant was a first-generation college student; other factors were extracurricular activities, Georgia residency, race and gender.

"What we learned is that the total student index was a way to generate 10 percent nonwhite enrollment a year. And they manipulated it to do that. That's a quota," Parks said.

"They also were seeking a 50-50 class male and female and gave males points over females because women were doing better on the SAT test and were generating about a 58 percent enrollment rate without giving males an advantage," he said.

School's policy was too broad, court said

The University of Georgia discontinued using race last year while it awaited the court's decision; it stopped considering gender in 1999.

Attorneys for the university argued it used race to encourage diversity on campus, which Justice Lewis Powell wrote was a compelling interest in the 1978 University of California v. Bakke decision upholding race-based admissions policies.

The 11th Circuit left that issue to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that even if diversity was a compelling interest, any remedy must be narrowly tailored. It ruled that since all minorities were given extra points, the system was too broad.

"If the goal in creating a diverse student body is to develop a university community where students are exposed to persons of different cultures, outlooks, and experiences, a white applicant in some circumstances may make a greater contribution than a non-white applicant," Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the court.

"To take a few obvious examples, a white applicant from a disadvantaged rural area in Appalachia may well have more to offer a Georgia public university such as UGA -- from the standpoint of diversity -- than a non-white applicant from an affluent family and a suburban Atlanta high school," Marcus wrote.


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