Dunbar High School student Omari Biddleman and about 100 of his classmates should have been at school Wednesday.
Georgetown University law student Ashley Grisham should have been studying case law.
And Hemella Sweatt-Duplechan should have been in the lab of a Cincinnati hospital where she works as a pathologist.
But instead the two students and the daughter of the man who desegregated the University of Texas law school in 1950 were on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. They were among hundreds who rallied Wednesday to support the University of Texas in the nation’s latest affirmative action case. The case was sparked by a school program that draws about 75 percent of its freshman class based on their graduation rankings from Texas high school as a way of racially diversifying the school’s campus.
“We support the University of Texas because we believe that it is right to have diversity in schools,” said Biddleman. “I have been part of diverse groups all my life. I don’t look at a certain race and have a theory about that race.”
Grisham, who came to the court with a group of Georgetown University Law School Students, joined the others to hear arguments about the case that dates back to 2008, when Abigail Fisher, a white woman, applied to the University of Texas for admission and was denied. Even though the high court has ruled in other cases that colleges can consider race when it comes to admissions, the Supreme Court seemed deeply divided Wednesday over the future of affirmative action in college admissions.
“Today this resonates in my heart because I am no longer separated from the generations of African Americans who had to fight for educational opportunities,” Grisham said.
But according to The Post’s Robert Barnes several justices were skeptical. Gregory G. Garre, a Washington lawyer who defended the university before the justices, faced intense questioning from the conservatives. Barnes reported that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. pursued Garre relentlessly and “suggested that the university was downplaying its reliance on race” to avoid scrutiny.
Hemella Sweatt-Duplechan was inside the court Wednesday because in 1950 lawyers for her father, Heman Marion Sweatt, sued the state of Texas for admission to the University of Texas law school but was denied on the grounds that black law schools were available in the state.
“We stand in the support of the university and we want to stand and fight for diversity in education,” said Sweatt-Duplechan, whose father prevailed in the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.
The hearing garnered national attention. Civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were inside the court during the hearing. Jackson noted that Justice Clarence Thomas didn’t ask questions from the bench, even though it is widely perceived that he benefited from affirmative action to get into Yale Law School.
“The number one moral flaw in American culture is the misappropriation of race, which is racism,” Jackson said. “It is interesting that you have a diverse court made up of an African American . . . three women and a Latino. This court is diverse as a result of inclusive policies of gender and race.”
Flanked by a group of black students, University of Texas President Bill Powers and his lawyers were one of the last groups to leave the Supreme Court steps. As they took pictures Powers said that he was proud of what has been accomplished since he came to the university in the 1970s.
“When I got to the campus in 1977 the campus was not very diverse,” Powers said. “This has been a decade-long effort, we are not there yet, but we are in a better place to get where we want to be, by showing how showing how successful our efforts at diversity have been.”
More from The Root DC