After months of deliberation, the Supreme Court released on Monday its highly-anticipated ruling on the use of affirmative action in college admissions, though the decision has already sparked controversy for sidestepping major issues and avoiding a conclusive judgment on the constitutionality of affirmative action.
The case, Fisher v. Texas, was first brought to federal court by an applicant to the University of Texas in 2008. The applicant, Abigail Fisher, claimed she was denied admission because of the university’s use of race as a significant factor in considering students’ applications. Fisher’s case drew a flurry of media attention from the start, as its ruling could have potentially represented a major shift in the Supreme Court’s views toward affirmative action, which have historically wavered back and forth.
Despite intense speculation, though, the ruling fell short of most expectations. By a 7-to-1 vote, the Court decided to send the case back to a lower federal appeals court for further review, citing the lower court’s failure to hold the university to a standard of strict review when first examining the case.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion for the ruling, endorsed the Supreme Court’s prior decisions establishing affirmative action as a constitutional practice, citing its special importance of diversity in higher education. Still, the majority maintained that the lower court did not look closely enough at the University of Texas’s race-conscious admissions program.
On the other hand, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — the lone dissenting justice in the ruling — said she believes the university did reach a “good-faith judgment” that race-conscious admissions policies were beneficial to the student body, and that the case did not need to be returned for a second look.
In a statement after the ruling, Fisher said she is “grateful to the justices for moving the nation closer to the day when a student’s race isn’t used at all in college admissions.”
The last major Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action occurred in the 2003 landmark case Grutter v. Bollinger, in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions policies in universities.