NABC files affirmative action brief

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The National Association of Basketball Coaches has told the U.S. Supreme Court it believes university officials should be able to continue taking race into consideration when deciding who gets to enroll in their schools.

The NABC and 43 current and former basketball coaches filed an amicus brief in the case of Abigail Fisher, who sued the University of Texas in 2008 after she was denied admission to the university. Fisher, who is white, claimed her civil and constitutional rights were violated when the university admitted less-qualified minority students because of their race. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Oct. 10.

Jim Haney, executive director of the NABC, said his organization has spent the last six years lobbying in several states against referendums to repeal affirmative action, so chiming in on the Supreme Court case was a natural.

"I think for a number of us who were on college campuses back in the '60s and '70s, were there African-American basketball players and football players on those campuses? Sure. But that certainly wouldn't suggest there was diversity throughout the universities," he said. "Minority representation in some cases was almost exclusively student-athletes."

Haney said many minority students come from high schools that don't "give them the best opportunity to capitalize on their desires and interests."

"It would be nice if everyone was on the same playing field and it was level," he said. "But it's not that way. Some people who are disadvantaged just need the opportunity."

The University of Texas system automatically allows in-state students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes to enroll. Beyond that, it takes a number of factors -- including race -- into account when deciding who else gets admitted.

Fisher didn't qualify for automatic admission under the top 10 percent rule, and had to compete with other in-state, non-top 10 applicants, including some who received racial consideration as "underrepresented minorities."

She argued that her civil and constitutional rights were violated because even though her academic credentials exceeded those of many minority students who were accepted, she was not.

On Monday, the Obama administration voiced its support for continued use of affirmative action. In a court brief co-signed by lawyers from the departments of Defense, Education, Commerce, Labor and Health and Human Services, the Justice Department said a diverse college population was in the best interests of the government and universities.

Also Monday, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, on behalf of 14 states, urged the court to uphold racial preferences in college admissions.

Fisher's supporters, including a group of current and former civil rights officials, have argued in their own court filings that race-neutral alternatives, such as the top 10 percent plan at Texas, must be found to be ineffective before race-conscious affirmative action plans can be implemented.

There is no evidence the university closely examined race-neutral alternatives or even studied the effectiveness of the top-10 plan in creating the desired diversity, they said.

The Supreme Court's ruling on the lawsuit will be its first on affirmative action in higher education since 2003.