The Supreme Court faces a discomfiting decision. If it chooses, as it should, to hear a case concerning racial preferences in admissions at the University of Texas, the court will confront evidence of its complicity in harming the supposed beneficiaries of preferences the court has enabled and encouraged.

In the 1978 Bakke case concerning preferences in a medical school's admissions, Justice Lewis Powell, the swing vote on a fractured court, wrote that institutions of higher education have a First Amendment right -- academic freedom -- to use race as one "plus" factor when shaping student bodies to achieve viewpoint diversity. Thus began the "educational benefits" exception to the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

But benefits to whom?

Liberals would never stoop to stereotyping, but they say minorities necessarily make distinctive -- stereotypical? -- contributions to viewpoint diversity, conferring benefits on campus culture forever. And minorities admitted to elite universities and professional schools supposedly serve the compelling goal of enlarging the minority component of the middle class and professions.

But what if many of the minorities used in this process are injured by it? Abundant research says they are, as two amicus curiae briefs demonstrate in urging the court to take the Texas case.

A brief submitted by UCLA law professor Richard Sander and legal analyst Stuart Taylor argues that voluminous research refutes the legal premise for such racial classifications: They benefit relatively powerless minorities.

"Academic mismatch" causes many students who are admitted under a substantial preference based on race, but who possess weaker academic skills, to fall behind. The consequences include especially high attrition rates from the sciences, and self-segregation in less-demanding classes, thereby reducing classroom diversity. Blacks are significantly more integrated across the University of California system than they were before the state eliminated racial preferences in 1996, thereby discouraging enrollment of underprepared minorities in the more elite institutions.

A second brief, submitted by three members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (Gail Heriot, Peter Kirsanow and Todd Gaziano), argues that racial preferences in law school admissions mean fewer black lawyers than there would be without preferences that bring law students into elite academic settings where their credentials put them in the bottom of their classes. A similar dynamic is reducing the number of minority scientists and engineers than there would be under race-neutral admissions policies.

There are fewer minorities entering high-prestige careers than there would be if preferences were not placing many talented minority students in inappropriate, and discouraging, academic situations: "Many would be honor students elsewhere. But they are subtly being made to feel as if they are less talented than they really are."

The court should use the Texas case to acknowledge the intersection of constitutional law and social science regarding racial preferences, and to revisit the crumbling legal rationale for them.

Until it does, diversity bureaucracies on campuses will continue to use minority students as mere means to other people's ends, injuring minorities by treating them as ingredients that supposedly enrich the academic experience of others.

In six devastating words, the Heriot-Kirsanow-Gaziano brief distills the case against the "diversity" rationale for racial preferences: "Minority students are not public utilities."