Supreme Court Considers New Limits on Affirmative Action

June 25, 2013

In a decisive 7-1 vote, the Supreme Court voted Monday to toughen standards for the use of affirmative action in college admissions practices. According to NBC News, colleges and universities must now show "no workable race-neutral alternatives" to achieve diversity on campus. The Supreme Court justices stopped just short of ruling against all race-preferential treatment in college admissions. Instead, the ruling serves as a warning that changes in the legal use of affirmative action may be coming in the near future.

The Supreme Court reportedly sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the official Supreme Court opinion, it was argued that the lower courts used incorrect standards when interpreting the proper use of affirmative action in school admissions policies. The decision, which was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, suggests higher standards for public school's use of affirmative action as a means to increase diversity.

"Strict scrutiny does not permit a court to accept a school's assertion that its admissions process uses race in a permissible way without a court giving close analysis to the evidence of how the process works in practice," Kennedy wrote. "The University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal. On this point, the University receives no deference."

According to CBS News, affirmative action has remained a point of contention due to controversy inspired by Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin. The case involves Abigail Fisher, a white woman who filed suit against the school after being denied admission in 2008. Fisher claimed that her constitutional rights and federal civil rights laws were violated and remains adamant that race shouldn't play a role in a student's admission to college.

"I am 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," Fisher said in a statement.

Edward Blum, who helped provide legal counsel to Blum through the Project on Fair Representation, believes that the new Supreme Court ruling indicated a move toward equality in college admissions standards.

"The Supreme Court has established exceptionally high hurdles for the University of Texas and other universities and colleges to overcome if they intend to continue using race preferences in their admissions policies," he said in a statement, as quoted in CBS News. "It is unlikely that most institutions will be able to overcome these hurdles. "

As USA Today noted, the Supreme Court ruling was decisive with seven justices voting in favor, one justice dissenting, and another justice not participating in the ruling. Although the decision gives a big boost to those who oppose the use of race preference in college admissions, not everyone is happy with the direction that the Supreme Court appears to be heading.

"It's extremely disappointing that the Supreme Court did not affirm the constitutionality of the University of Texas affirmative action plan," Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told USA Today. "But it's not a total loss because for the time being the University of Texas plan is still in place."

Compiled by Holly Johnson


"Court calls for tougher scrutiny of affirmative action,", June 24, 2013, Richard Wolf and Brad Heath

"Supreme Court holds off on major affirmative action decision,", June 24, 2013, Stephanie Condon

"Supreme Court raises bar for affirmative action in college admissions,", June 24, 2013, Pete Williams and Erin McClam

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