Supreme Court upholds affirmative action

Ruling a surprise to many observers

Kristin Tyndall, EAB Daily BriefingKristin Tyndall, editor

Check back for more updates and expert analysis on this story.

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected Abigail Fisher's challenge to race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas (UT).

Four justices voted in favor of UT: Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Three voted against: Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Justice Elena Kagan did not vote because she worked on the case earlier in her career.

Also see: Facing flattening enrollments? Alternative student pathways might help.

The case in question was Fisher v. the University of Texas. Fisher, a white woman, was rejected from UT in 2008 and filed a complaint the same year, claiming that UT's consideration of her race violated her right to Equal Protection.

While the case narrowly concerned UT, higher education experts believed the decision would send a signal to the broader industry.

UT uses two systems for admissions, one that considers race and one that does not. Most of the incoming class comes from a statewide program that grants automatic admissions to students in the top 10% of their high school class.

For other applicants to UT, admissions decisions are determined partially by race. The university aims to create a "critical mass" of underrepresented students, which school leaders define as the point at which minority students no longer feel like token members of their race.

The court decided that Fisher was denied entrance to UT not because of her race, but because she was not in the top 10% of her high school class.

The stakes were so high for this case because many other universities use similar race-conscious policies, and a decision against them could have created a nationwide ripple effect.

Observers predicted several of the Justices' votes, but Justice Kennedy was expected to side against UT after criticizing "critical mass" in a prior case (Liptak, New York Times, 6/23).

Related: Scaling support for tomorrow's students


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