June 24, 2013

Supreme Court sends affirmative action case back to lower courts

Its 7-1 decision avoids the larger constitutional issues around continued use of race as a factor in college admissions.

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

At the same time, conservatives said the decision might prove problematic for the University of Texas once the appellate court takes a second look, with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas saying, “This was a victory for our color-blind Constitution.”

Determining that a policy meets a “compelling state interest” is one of the crucial elements a court considers when ruling on whether racial distinctions comply with the Constitution. Under the 14th Amendment, states must grant “the equal protection of the laws” to all people. The other crucial element courts consider is whether the racial policy is “narrowly tailored,” which rules out sweeping quotas.

The Texas case arose from a challenge initially filed by Abigail Noel Fisher, a Caucasian woman who applied as an undergraduate to the University of Texas for the class that entered in the fall of 2008. Because she wasn’t in the top 10 percent of her high school class, she wasn’t guaranteed admission under the state’s college policy.

The University of Texas guarantees admission to students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, but Fisher’s 3.59 GPA was too low.

The university also admits a certain number of other students, for whom race, leadership experience, socio-economic status and other factors may provide admissions advantages. Fisher was rejected. She subsequently enrolled at Louisiana State University and graduated last year.

Other schools likewise have considered race in admissions, with the University of North Carolina stressing in a legal brief that “the process is far from mechanistic,” while the University of Kansas and Pennsylvania State University added separately that “race is only one of many factors” taken into account

The case was heard last October, at the very start of the term that’s scheduled to end this week, and it took the justices longer to decide than any other case this term.

Justice Elena Kagan, formerly the solicitor general in the Obama administration, recused herself from the case.

The Supreme Court will issue more decisions Tuesday, potentially including several cases that involve same-sex marriage.

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