The Supreme Court announcedMondaythat it will send Fisherv. University of Texas at Austin back to an appeals court for review on the basis of a misinterpretation of precedent. The final ruling on the case, which challenges the legality of the school’s affirmative action admissions policy, could have consequences for the University and other institutions that practice race-conscious admissions.
The decision came in a 7-1 vote from the Court, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg the lone dissenter.Justices Samuel Alito '72 and Sonia Sotomayor '76 voted in the majority. Justice Elena Kagan '81 recused herself from the case since she had worked on it in her former capacity as solicitor general.ThoughSotomayor was thought likely to vote in favor of UT Austin and Alito was thought likely to vote in favor ofFisher, the Court decided to send the case back to the appeals courts on grounds that lower courts had misinterpreted the legal precedent set by the similar 2003 affirmative action caseGrutter v. Bollinger.
The ruling has been interpreted by some as a preliminary victory for theFisherteam, as the standard of review set by the Court’sMondaydecision effectively makes the burden on UT Austin to prove that its affirmative action program is constitutional more difficult
“I think whenever you win at the Supreme Court 7-1 and you’re able to reach across an ideological divide and pick up those who have been traditionally supportive of race classification ... this is a win; [there’s] no other way to characterize this,” Edward Blum, an American Enterprise Institute visiting fellow and the director of the Project on Fair Representation,told POLITICO. “The opinion is clear and concise ... The University of Texas’ introduction of race was illegal.”
Should the case end up ruling against the University of Texas’ policy , the result could alter the way the University and other universities nationwide conduct their admissions.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits private institutions that receive federal funding — such as the University — from discriminating on the basis of race. If race-conscious admissions policies are found to violate the Civil Rights Act and the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, the change in precedent could restrict the ability of the University and its peers to consider race in their admissions processes.
While the Court’s consideration of the Fisher case was ongoing, the University expressed its support for UT Austin. The Universityfiled an amicus curiae briefto the Courtexplaining their use of race as a factor in admissions decisions.