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A lawyer for three white women asked a federal appeals court Tuesday in Atlanta to strike down the University of Georgia’s race-conscious admissions policy, saying the edge it gives minority applicants is “constitutionally bankrupt.” The university argued that diversity is a compelling state interest and that the policy helps remedy a long history of discrimination. No black students were allowed at University of Georgia until 1961. The school is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that the admissions policy is unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday and could rule at any time. The policy uses a formula to rate applicants who don’t make the cut on grades and test scores alone — about one in 10. Points are assigned on factors ranging from alumni relatives to race, with nonwhite applicants getting a statistical boost. Attorney Lee Parks, whose three white clients were denied admission to Georgia in 1999, said the school may be right to seek diversity, but not the way it has. “Whites could present a compelling case that they could be a cultural enhancement to a freshman class,” Parks said. “But no one ever asks that question of a Caucasian at the University of Georgia.” University attorney Mark Cohen said the admissions formula is in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling in a landmark 1978 case that allowed consideration of race in admissions but outlawed racial quotas. “For the University of Georgia to be able to use race at all, it has to use it such that is not a quota and it is not a set-aside,” he said. “It only applies to the most minimum extent possible.” The appeals judges questioned both sides. At least one judge appeared concerned that the policy leads to unfair treatment of applicants. “All other things being equal, a black candidate would be treated differently,” Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr. said. Later, he asked Cohen: “How do you differentiate your idea of diversity from racism?” The university has struggled for years to boost black enrollment. Blacks make up about 6 percent of the student body, while the state population is more than one-quarter black. Arguing for the university, an NAACP attorney reminded the judges that black students were barred from the school for more than 150 years. “History is critical to understanding the university’s consideration of race,” said Elise Boddie, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “There has never been a finding that the University of Georgia has eliminated the vestiges of its past discrimination.” The university has suspended the consideration of race while it awaits the appeals court’s decision. The case could wind up with the Supreme Court, which can choose to resolve differences among appeals courts’ rulings. The 9th Circuit Court sided with a Western school that considered race, but a 5th Circuit ruling led to an injunction banning Texas universities from using race as a factor. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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