In 2008, Abigail Noel Fisher (a white Texan) sued the University of Texas at Austin after being denied admittance, claiming she had been marginalized by the institution's practice of affirmative action and citing evidence that less academically qualified individuals were admitted, in part, because of their race.
Today, the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-1 to send her case, Fisher v. University of Texas, back down to the lower courts, where the plaintiff had been previously defeated. Proponents of affirmative action were relieved, having feared the court would make a sweeping decision that could have eliminated the practice of affirmative action altogether.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion urging the lower court to take a more critical look:
Grutter calls for deference to the University's experience and expertise about its educational mission. However, once the University has established that its goal of diversity is consistent with strict scrutiny, the University must prove that the means it chose to attain that diversity are narrowly tailored to its goal. On this point, the University receives no deference.
The lone dissenter, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, compared the case in question to Texas' "Top Ten Percent Law," which guarantees public-funded university admission for all high school students who graduate within the top ten percent of their class. Ginsburg said that she would have upheld the university's decision. Justice Clarence Thomas, meanwhile, joined the court's majority, but in a concurring opinion compared affirmative action to Jim Crow segregation laws, as U.S. News' Elizabeth Flock reported.
Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) was the last supreme court case to address the issue of affirmative action. That suit was filed against the University of Michigan Law School for assigning points to different race categories in its admission scoring. The court's decision rendered the points system unconstitutional, but allowed for race to be considered as a means to achieving a culturally diverse student body.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human rights lauded the court, saying "today's decision makes it clear that it's time to expand our commitment to diversity in all of our institutions to ensure that we are well-positioned to compete in the diverse economy of the 21st century."
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