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High Court to Review Race in Shaping Schools

The U.S. Supreme Court reenters the battle over affirmative action, announcing that it will decide whether public schools may use race as a factor in making students assignments in order to promote racial diversity.

The court has agreed to review a case from Seattle testing whether public schools may use race as a factor when assigning students to schools. The court will also hear a case from Jefferson County, Ky., where the school district is under a court order to desegregate.

Just three years ago, the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, reaffirmed a 25-year-old decision that allowed state colleges and universities to use race as a factor in college admissions. The 2003 decision, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, seemed to settle the question the affirmation action question to a large extent

In December, the court declined to hear a case that turned on the same issues. Justice O'Connor was still on the court then, and her successor Samuel Alito is seen as pivotal in such cases. The court will hear the cases next term.

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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.