In a 7-1 decision that was labeled by many a punt or a sidestep, the Supreme Court on Monday sent the case Fisher v. University of Texas back to a lower court for tougher scrutiny and more careful review. That decision likely held intact the race-based admissions policies of the university and others like it.
The case’s resolution was largely applauded, with the NAACP, ACLU, National Action Network and numerous other civil and human rights organizations celebrating the decision of the Court.
“Today’s near-unanimous decision leaves intact the important principle that universities have a compelling interest in a diverse student body, and that race can be one factor among many that universities consider in a carefully crafted admissions program,” said Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.
“We believe that the University of Texas has made a strong showing that its admissions plan was necessary to achieve meaningful diversity, and that it can and should be upheld under the standard that the Supreme Court announced today.”
The ACLU, like many other groups, filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold the Texas plan.
Taking their support for the university one step further, the NAACP staged rallies outside the Supreme Court while the case was argued in October. Representatives from the organization, including President Benjamin Todd Jealous and Chairwoman Roslyn M. Brock, issued statements proclaiming their satisfaction with the final outcome.
“This is a critical decision toward ensuring equal opportunity in education,” said Brock. “It is in our nation’s best interest to grant a fair chance to people with various backgrounds and ethnicities. In today’s global economy, all Americans will benefit from a diverse and inclusive environment in higher education.”
The organization’s general counsel Kim Keenan praised the impact of the ruling as well.
“The NAACP applauds the Court’s preservation of the Grutter standard permitting universities to consider racial and ethnic diversity as on factor among many in a carefully crafted admissions policy,” said Keenan. “Given that University of Texas’ policy can be used to admit white students for purposes of diversity, we are confident that Fifth Circuit will uphold the policy. Diversity is an opportunity for all students to obtain an education that will prepare them for to interact and compete with anyone, anywhere in the world.”
The University of Texas also weighed in, assuring supporters that its leaders were encouraged by the decision and would continue to seek out diverse applicants.
“We remain committed to assembling a student body at The University of Texas at Austin that provides the educational benefits of diversity on campus while respecting the rights of all students and acting within the constitutional framework established by the court,” said school President Bill Powers.
Representatives from the Obama administration agreed, stressing the importance of future leaders “who possess the understanding of diversity that is necessary to govern and defend the United States.”
But not everyone was fully supportive of the Court’s decision, or lack thereof, on affirmative action. Rainbow PUSH Atlanta Vice President Janice L. Mathis joined the lone dissenting voice on the Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, insisting that more should have been done.
“We don’t apply a strict scrutiny review to claims of gender discrimination, and we should not apply it in this context either,” said Mathis. “Geography, athletic ability, legacy are all considered by university admissions officials, without resort to strict scrutiny, the highest standard of review known in the law.
“A more rational basis for examining admissions policy is appropriate where racial classification is being used to include a historically excluded racial or ethnic group,” she added.
While voting with the majority on the case, Justice Clarence Thomas, the lone African-American justice and a longtime opponent of affirmative action, argued that the Court should have made a broader statement to end affirmative action.
“The Constitution abhors classifications based on race’ because ‘every time the government places citizens on racial registers and makes race relevant to the provision of burdens or benefits, it demeans us all,” Thomas wrote.
A federal district court in Texas, on Aug. 17, 2009, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, on Jan. 18, 2011, both sided with the university in previous judgments. The case was first heard by the Supreme Court on Oct. 10, 2012.