Supreme court punts affirmative action case

Katie Grunewald

A 23-year-old white student filed a suit against the University of Texas-Austin, challenging their affirmative action policy; on Monday, the Supreme Court justices punted the case, sending it back to be reevaluated by a lower court.

This ruling allows affirmative action to continue in the world of college admissions, but does not mean the future of the program is not in jeopardy. 

Abigail Fisher said she was declined admission to the University of Texas-Austin in 2008 because of her race. In 1997, the Texas legislature passed the “Top Ten Percent Law.” This law grants automatic acceptance to any Texas public university to any high school senior who graduates in the top 10 percent of their class.

Those schools also consider several other factors for students who are not in the top 10 percent of their class, including race. Fisher argued she was denied a fair chance of being admitted because she is white. 

Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 7-1, one justice recused herself, to send the case back to a lower federal appeals court.

The Supreme Court ruled that the lower court did not hold the university to the “demanding burden of strict scrutiny,” and “presumed that the school had acted in good faith.” 

The Supreme Court said the lower court did not examine the university’s affirmative action program enough and should have required the university to prove that the program was “narrowly tailored” enough to reach the diversity objectives it was designed to produce.

A section of the court’s opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy read:

“Narrow tailoring also requires that the reviewing court verify that it is ‘necessary’ for a university to use race to achieve the educational benefits of diversity … This involves a careful judicial inquiry into whether a university could achieve sufficient diversity without using racial classifications. Although ‘[n]arrow tailoring does not require exhaustion of every conceivable race-neutral alternative,’ strict scrutiny does require a court to examine with care, and not defer to, a university’s ‘serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives’ … Consideration by the university is of course necessary, but it is not sufficient to satisfy strict scrutiny … The reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.”

Fisher thinks the ruling was in her favor, and thinks the University of Texas-Austin may not be able to use race as a factor of admission again.

“Of course we’re happy with it,” Fisher said, in an interview with ABC News. “You know, they gave us everything that we asked for, and I’m very confident that UT won’t be able to use race again.”

“I am grateful to the justices for moving the nation closer to the day when a student’s race isn’t used at all in college admissions,” Fisher said in a statement.

Fisher has already graduated from Louisiana State University and is currently working in Austin, Texas.