Wisconsin group to appeal court loss in challenge of racially discriminatory college grant program

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A conservative public interest law firm plans to appeal a court ruling tossing its lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state-administered college grant program that excludes whites and Asians.

Dan Lennington, deputy counsel at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), said the group would appeal the ruling, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Sept. 26.

Lennington said he was optimistic that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in two upcoming related cases may change the legal landscape across the nation regarding race-conscious programs at the colleges. The high court is scheduled to hear two cases challenging the constitutionality of using race in college admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina on Oct. 31, as The Epoch Times reported.

“We are confident that ultimately the State of Wisconsin will have to end this race-based scholarship,” he said.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge William Hue dismissed the suit on Sept. 16. The legal complaint (pdf) in Rabiebna v. Higher Educational Aids Board, was filed on April 15, 2021, in Jefferson County.

WILL sued Wisconsin’s Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB) in the name of several state residents, including a mixed-race family who said their son failed to qualify for the Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant. Wisconsin law states that grants from the program, which was created in 1985, may only be awarded to African American, American Indian, Hispanic, and some Southeast Asian students from Laos, Vietnam, or Cambodia.

Students who are white, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, North African, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, or African aren’t eligible for grants.

“This is discrimination based on race, national origin, and alienage, which is forbidden by the Wisconsin Constitution,” the complaint states.

Eligible students who meet the qualifications under the program may receive an award based on financial need, with a minimum grant of $250 and a maximum of $2,500. The grants are renewable for up to eight semesters or 12 quarters.

“Unless the Court declares the race, national origin, and alienage classifications in Minority Grant Program to be unconstitutional, unlawful, and invalid, then Plaintiffs will continue to be forced to financially support this discriminatory program,” according to the complaint.

“America is a land of opportunity,” Kiki Rabiebna, wife of one of the plaintiffs, said when the complaint was filed. “Government programs must be available to everybody, not just certain racial groups.”

“When government discriminates by race, it pits different groups against each other,” said Rick Freihoefer, another plaintiff. “That isn’t progress. That just fans the flames of our divisions.”

Connie Hutchinson, executive director of HEAB, told the newspaper that as a result of the lawsuit being dismissed, students of color will still be able to be given grant monies. HEAB doles out the grants based on financial need to students enrolled at a technical college, tribal college, or nonprofit private college, she said.

The University of Wisconsin System has a similar grant program. Lennington has said WILL may target that racially discriminatory program in court, as well.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared Sept. 26, 2022, in The Epoch Times.