In a 7-1 decision made on June 24, the Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the affirmative action policy at the University of Texas and returned the case to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In handing down the decision, however, the High Court vacated the circuit court’s previous decision and directed it to revisit the case and to apply a stricter level of scrutiny in deciding whether the university’s affirmative policy is justified.
The case being considered, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, began in 2008 when the University of Texas rejected the admissions application of a Sugar Land high school senior, Abigail Noel Fisher. Fisher, who is white, sued the university, asserting that her application was evaluated differently from those of some less-qualified minority students who were accepted. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled in favor of the university, and the Fifth Circuit Court affirmed that decision, after which that decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.
CNN quoted UT’s president, Bill Powers, who said the university was encouraged by the decision: “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 Powers.
The decision was written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr., Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas are usually regarded as philosophically conservative members of the court, while Breyer and Sotomayor are considered to be quite liberal. Kennedy, a middle-of-the-roader, is often the “swing” vote on the court.
Surprisingly, the sole dissenter was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is regarded as one of the more liberal members of the court. Another liberal justice, Elena Kagan, did not participate in the decision because she served as solicitor general in the Obama administration when the case was first appealed.
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