In a 4-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled today to uphold the University of Texas’s race-conscious admissions program in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.
“Today’s decision affirms the Court’s earlier precedent and what so many Americans have long understood—that embracing diversity improves education and our democracy,” said Robin Lenhardt, faculty director of the School’s Center on Race, Law and Justice. “Although focused on the unique admissions program that the University of Texas implements under Texas’s state legislature–adopted Ten Percent Plan, Justice Kennedy’s opinion makes it clear that all universities may seek to provide their students with the educational benefits of broad diversity. It also recognizes the ability of universities and states like Texas, which not so long ago excluded African Americans from its institutions of higher education, to adopt innovative solutions to the problems of persistent racial inequality in our communities and to promote much needed dialogue about core issues confronting our democracy. This is a welcome acknowledgement from the Court, which, while decrying overt racial bias and discrimination, has often declined to embrace strategies designed to unearth and address structural barriers to racial equality and opportunity. It signals the Court’s institutional attentiveness and relevance to current debates about race and inequality in our society.”
Professor Thomas H. Lee also weighed in. “Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the 4-3 majority upholding the University of Texas’s affirmative action program shoos out with a whimper the ominous threat to such programs implicit in the Supreme Court’s first encounter with Abigail Fisher’s case in 2013. The doctrinal takeaway for public universities is that they may continue to implement diversity-motivated, race-conscious admissions programs so long as their lawyers support them with findings and narrative about why other ideas won’t work and do so going forward from time to time. The big institutional point is that the Supreme Court, most importantly Justice Kennedy, wants to kick the issue of affirmative action to the curb, accord a fair measure of deference to cash-strapped public universities, and let state voters get rid of race-conscious admission programs to flagship public universities if they so desire.”