Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action in Fisher Ruling

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled 4-3 in favor of the University of Texas at Austin (UT) in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case, upholding the consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions.

The long-running case has been working its way through the courts for six years after Abigail Fisher, a white high school student in Texas who was denied admission to UT, brought the case forward, arguing that minority students with lower credentials had received admission to UT over her, due to one of their policies, and that this violated her rights under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The Fisher case challenged the constitutionality of UT’s admissions practices. UT, following state law, provides guaranteed admission to in-state residents who are in the top 10 percent of their high school class. Though UT admits a majority of its students through the “top 10” program, it also reviews applicants who are not in the top 10. The court ruled that Fisher was denied admission primarily because of the school’s 10 percent plan, rather than a consideration of race.

In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that “the record here reveals that the university articulated concrete and precise goals — e.g., ending stereotypes, promoting 'cross-racial understanding,' preparing students for 'an increasingly diverse workforce and society,' and cultivating leaders with 'legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry' — that mirror the compelling interest this court has approved in prior cases.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor joined Kennedy in the majority opinion, while Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Jr., and Clarence Thomas dissented. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case due to her work on the case as solicitor general prior to joining the Supreme Court.

According to Inside Higher Ed (IHE), Kagan’s recusal and the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia “may have cleared the way” for the decision to uphold affirmative action. IHE also reports that while a split decision from the court would have brought the same outcome, it “would have not have the same power as a percent on the issue.”

The Court on Thursday also ruled in a 4-4 deadlock to uphold a federal appeals court decision that blocked President Obama's 2014 "deferred action" rules, which protect some adults who reside in the United States illegally. The rules, which protect from deportation many young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents, would expand deportation protections from two years to three. The executive actions would also “expand and extend the use” of a temporary work authorization program to international students for 12 to 29 months after graduation.

 

Publication Date: 6/24/2016


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