Supremes Take On Affirmative Action

The Supreme Court is slated to release a few major opinions this week, and the first one out is their ruling on Fisher v. University of Texas, which focuses on the constitutionality of affirmative action in college admissions.

The case was brought by a young lady who was rejected admission to the University of Texas. She argued that because the university used race quotas in their admissions process she was not able to get in, while other less qualified students could, based solely on their race.

The court took no drastic action, instead deciding in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion to vacate the earlier judgment. But in doing this, “fairness to the litigants and the courts that heard the case requires that it be remanded so that the admissions process can be considered and judged under a correct analysis.” The ruling effectively just sends the case back down to the lower court to be judged again under what the court deems to be a correct analysis.  SCOTUS Blog tells us that this likely means the court is “clearly not overruling Grutter; but it’s clearly also sending a signal that it’s serious about the ‘narrow tailoring’ rule.”

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The ruling was divided 7-1 with Justice Ginsberg dissenting and Justice Kagan recusing herself from the case.

Justice Ginsberg in her dissent argued that colleges cannot (nor should they) be race blind in their admissions process:

“I have several times explained why government actors, including state universities, need not be blind to the lingering effects of ‘an overtly discriminatory past,’ the legacy of ‘centuries of law-sanctioned inequality.’ … Among constitutionally permissible options, I remain convinced, ‘those that candidly disclose their consideration of race [are] preferable to those that conceal it.”

justicethomasJustice Thomas signed on to the majority opinion but also offered his own opinion on the case saying:

I write separately to explain that I would overrule Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 306 (2003), and hold that a State’s use of race in higher education admissions decisions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause… Attaining diversity for its own sake is a nonstarter. As even Grutter recognized, the pursuit of diversity as an end is nothing more than impermissible “’racial balancing’.”

In regards to the arguments for affirmative action, Justice Thomas had some particularly scathing comments:

“It is also noteworthy that, in our desegregation cases, we rejected arguments that are virtually identical to those advanced by the University today. The University asserts, for instance, that the diversity obtained through its discriminatory admissions program prepares its students to become leaders in a diverse society… The segregationists likewise defended segregation on the ground that it provided more leadership opportunities for blacks.”

While the Supreme Court made no “final” pronouncement on affirmative action, this does seem to send the signal that the court believes that the time for ending affirmative action may be drawing nigh.




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