WASHINGTON -- A federal appeals court, raising a major constitutional threat to blacks-only scholarships at the University of Maryland College Park, has ruled the university has offered no proof that it uses that program to cure racial bias.
In a decision made public yesterday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., said a federal judge in Baltimore should strike down that program if university officials do not now show that discrimination still exists at the university's main campus.
The program would be unconstitutional, the appeals court said, unless there are "present effects of past discrimination" that the scholarships are intended to remedy. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz of Baltimore had upheld the scholarships last May. Now, he must reconsider their constitutionality.
A sophomore at the university, Daniel J. Podberesky, who is part Hispanic, challenged the constitutionality of the blacks-only scholarships after he was turned down when he sought the aid. He was rejected solely because he is not black.
The financial aid plan, which has been in effect for nearly 14 years, is known as the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship Program. Mr. Podberesky would have been eligible for it on the basis of his high grades.
The appeals court ruling yesterday gave Mr. Podberesky a partial victory, and raised a strong possibility that he may have a complete victory after Judge Motz reconsiders under the standards given him by the court in Richmond.
When Judge Motz reconsiders the case, the higher court said, he is not to look only at the numbers of black students enrolled at College Park and then draw some conclusions about racial bias, or the lack of that, from those numbers alone.
The university, it added, might be able to offer some evidence of present discriminatory effects -- even though it has offered none so far -- and it should be given a chance to do so.