Supreme Court Upholds University of Texas Affirmative Action Admissions Policy
Posted By Arthur Murray on June 23, 2016 at 4:42 pm
The U.S. Supreme Court today struck down a challenge to the constitutionality of a University of Texas, Austin, admissions policy that takes race into account. The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, was being watched carefully by affirmative action supporters as well as universities and colleges across the country.
The 4-3 ruling upheld UT’s “holistic” admissions policy, under which the university uses factors that go beyond transcripts and test scores in admitting students. Among those factors: a student’s record of achievements, essays, recommendations and special circumstances, including promoting racial diversity on the campus.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Abigail Fisher, a white woman who contended she was denied admission to UT in 2008 because of her race. She subsequently graduated from Louisiana State University. Critics say “holistic” admissions policies lack objectivity and fairness.
The court previously considered the case in 2013 but sent it back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for a rehearing, where the policy was upheld. Only seven justices participated in the case this time; the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia remains unfilled, and Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she had worked on the case as solicitor general. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor upheld the admissions policy, while Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
Affirmative action supporters were worried before the ruling because Kennedy had never voted in favor of a race-conscious plan. But, in his majority opinion, Kennedy wrote: “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.”
Alito, who authored one of two dissents to the ruling, questioned the need for the policy. “This is affirmative action gone berserk,” he wrote.
The decision is significant for backers of affirmative action in light of four studies by Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing Service, all of which concluded that alternatives to race-based college admissions have failed to accomplish significant diversity among entering college classes. Authors of one of the studies concluded that “race-neutral alternatives are costly, inefficient, and do not work at highly selective campuses.”
The court’s ruling means that affirmative action policies can stay in place at UT and other universities. Only eight states—Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Washington—bar consideration of race in admissions decisions.