Affirmative action programs in college admissions stand for now after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday remanded a closely watched Texas case back to a lower court for a more vigorous review.
In California, voters banned the use of race-based preferences in public universities in 1996. Private state universities could have been impacted, however, because they receive federal financial aid, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Colleges and universities throughout the nation were closely watching the Texas case, brought by Abigail Fisher, who is white, who said she was unfairly denied admission to the University of Texas, Austin.
In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court said universities should consider race only as a last resort after ensuring that other efforts to achieve diversity are insufficient. The Supreme Court’s ruling, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, asks a federal appeals court to re-examine the case, saying the court did not apply “the highest level of judicial scrutiny” in its ruling upholding the Texas admissions policy, the Associated Press reported. Courts should approve race-based factors only after concluding “that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity,” Kennedy wrote.
The decision leaves race-based admissions policies in Texas and elsewhere intact.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.
The University of California, where admissions of minority students plummeted after the affirmative action ban, filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of the University of Texas. Despite a number of targeted recruitment efforts and race-neutral changes to its admissions policies, UC’s admittance rates of minorities continue to lag, especially at the system’s most selective campuses.
UC, the brief said, can serve as an example of the difficulties of trying to build a diverse student body when race cannot be considered.
“Ours is a unique story that shines a light on the obstacles we face as we seek to enrich the UC educational experience through diversity,” UC President Mark G. Yudof said in a statement. “The facts tell us the educational and societal benefits from a diverse student body cannot be realized fully at the nation’s largest highly selective university system without the judicious use of tools that take race into account during undergraduate admissions decisions. Telling that story is the appropriate thing to do in the context of this legal case.”
Fisher’s attorney said the Supreme Court’s decision signals that the end is near for race-based admissions policies.
“The Supreme Court has established exceptionally high hurdles for the University of Texas and other universities and colleges to overcome if they intend to continue using race preferences in their admissions policies,” said Edward Blum, director of the Virginia-based Project on Fair Representation, which represented Fisher. “It is unlikely that most institutions will be able to overcome these hurdles. This opinion will compel the Fifth Circuit (federal appeals court) to strike down UT’s current use of race and ethnicity.”
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