Supreme Court has ruled on Affirmative Action and they like it. So any young whipper-snapper out there trying to get into a university, pull an Elizabeth Warren and pretend you’re Native American.
The Supreme Court on Thursday said University of Texas admission officials may consider the race of student applicants in a limited way to build a diverse student body.
The 4-to-3 decision was a surprising win for advocates of affirmative action, who say the benefits of diversity at the nation’s colleges and universities are worth the intrusion on the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection that generally forbids the government from making decisions based on racial classifications.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the university’s consideration of race was a “factor of a factor of a factor” and met the court’s narrow precedents.
“A university is in large part defined by those intangible qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness,”Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the court’s majority opinion.
“Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission. But still, it remains an enduring challenge to our Nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”
When the court considered the case in 2013, Kennedy wrote the opinion sending it back to lower courts for a closer examination, and it seemed the majority was skeptical at the time that the admissions plan would survive.
Indeed, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. began his 51-page dissent: “Something strange has happened since our prior decision in this case.” And he added that “the university has still not identified with any degree of specificity the interests that its use of race and ethnicity is supposed to serve.”
He read the lengthy dissent from the bench to stress his disagreement. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas joined his opinion.
Kennedy had never before voted to uphold a race-conscious plan, but he also had been reluctant to say race may never be used. He was joined by three of the courts liberal justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she had worked on the issue as President Obama’s solicitor general.
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement:
“At a time when college students across the country are demanding that their administrators do more to address the legacy of discrimination on campuses, the court’s ruling underscores the importance of pursuing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.”
The specific case was brought in 2008 by Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was denied admission to the university. Her suit was organized and funded by a conservative legal organization that opposes racial preferences in government and brought the challenge that resulted in the justices striking a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has ruled that students applying to the Univ. of Texas can be treated differently because of their race or ethnicity. I hope that the nation will one day move beyond affirmative action,” Fisher said in a statement.
Edward Blum, president of the Project on Fair Representation, which supports Fisher, said: “Racial classifications and preferences are one of the most polarizing policies in America today. As long as universities like the Univ. of Texas continue to treat applicants differently by race and ethnicity, the social fabric thatholds us together as a nation will be weakened. Today’s decision is a sad step backward for the original, colorblind principles to our civil rights laws.”
The University of Texas has a unique admissions system. The top students in each Texas high school are guaranteed admission to the flagship campus in Austin. Because many high schools are made up overwhelmingly of Hispanic or African American students, that assures a certain amount of diversity in the freshman class.
But university administrators said it was important to be able to at least consider race in admitting the rest of the freshman class to ensure the kind of diversity that they said was crucial to creating a learning environment that would benefit all students.
Several states — including large ones such as California, Florida and Michigan — already forbid the use of race in admitting students to their universities.
The Supreme Court since 1978 has recognized that promoting diversity on campuses allows universities to give some consideration to an applicant’s race, which normally would be unconstitutional.
Alito said from the bench that the court majority, he said, gave too much deference to University of Texas officials, who had provided only a “vaguely defined objective” for the school’s policy. Just as the court does not defer to government officials who say, “Trust us,” Alito said, college officials “are not angels whose actions are above judicial scrutiny.”