U.S. justices send affirmative action case back to lower court

Students calling for diversity protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, in this October 10, 2012 file photo.  Credit: Reuters
Students calling for diversity protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, in this October 10, 2012 file photo.
Credit: Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday avoided a major ruling in a closely watched racial case on the affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Texas at Austin by sending the case back to a lower court.

The court, on a 7-1 vote with Justice Elena Kagan not taking part, said an appeals court did not apply the correct standard in deciding whether the Texas policy violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

In doing so, Justice Anthony Kennedy made it clear that the program is not on solid legal ground and could still be overturned.

When the case returns to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, the university “must make a showing that its plan is narrowly tailored to achieve the only interest that this court has approved in this context,” Kennedy wrote.

Under court precedent, that means a program that takes into account a broad array of qualifications and characteristics “of which racial or ethnic origin is but a single though important element.”

The Supreme Court avoided making a decision on whether to overturn a 2003 precedent in a ruling written by the now-retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that let universities use race in admissions as one factor among others that make particular applicants more desirable.

The court’s composition has become more conservative since that decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program.

The University of Texas at Austin fills most of its freshman classes by granting automatic admission to in-state students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The policy was introduced to improve minority enrollment without falling foul of restrictions on affirmative action.

The case against the university was led by Abigail Fisher, a white suburban Houston woman who said that her race kept her from being admitted and that the top 10-percent rule was enough to improve diversity.

Texas countered that the rule did not result in the admission of enough minorities.

Fisher later graduated from Louisiana State University.

The University of Texas and its supporters contended that universities must have the flexibility to consider race to ensure diversity. Opponents said it is time to eliminate racial preferences, which they say are unconstitutional.

Justice Elena Kagan, believed to be a supporter of affirmative action, recused herself from the Fisher case, presumably because she had worked on it as U.S. solicitor general under President Barack Obama.

For decades, dating back at least to the John F. Kennedy administration of the 1960s, U.S. leaders have struggled with what “affirmative action” should be taken to help blacks and other minorities. In the early years, it was seen as a way to remedy racial prejudice and discrimination. In more recent times, it has been seen as a way to bring diversity to campuses and workplaces.

Since 1978, the Supreme Court has been at the center of disputes over when universities may consider applicants’ race. In that year’s groundbreaking Bakke decision from a University of California medical school, the justices forbade quotas but said schools could weigh race with other factors.

The case is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin et al, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 11-345.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Pennsylvania police shooter manhunt near home of suspect's…

A police manhunt intensified on Friday for the gunman who killed an officer and wounded another in an ambush at a Pennsylvania police barracks a week ago.

Local

MAP: New York City street closures, September 19,…

The Department of Transportation and NYPD said there may be residual delays near all of the street closures on September 19, 20 and 21. There will be many streets and…

Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Television

'Outlander' Season 1, Episode 7: 'The Wedding'

Claire and Jamie are man and wife!!! Like, ALL THE WAY, if you know what we mean. (Twice.)

Movies

Kevin Smith makes peace with the Internet

I was thinking about Ain't It Cool News and Harry Knowles last night, wondering if anyone from Ain't It Cool had reviewed my new movie…

Movies

Art imitates life in 'Swim Little Fish Swim'

There's a certain comfort to be taken in finding that young artists are still moving to New York and trying to make it — and…

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

NFL

Oday Aboushi ready for increased role, and to…

Oday Aboushi might feel comfortable enough to engage in some trash talk the next time he is on the field.

NFL

Giants vs. Texans: 3 things to watch

The Giants host the surprising Texans (2-0) in what may already be a must-win game for Big Blue.

NFL

Eric Decker misses practice again, could miss Monday

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker missed practice Thursday as he continues to rehab a hamstring injury suffered last Sunday.

MLB

Derek Jeter still focused on baseball as final…

Derek Jeter has effectively hid his emotions for 20 years in the Bronx.

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…