Supreme Court

Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality of Affirmative Action in University of Texas Case

SCOTUS rules 4-3 in closely watched case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.


U.S. Supreme Court

Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in favor of affirmative action in the closely watched case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy held that the school's race conscious admissions policy did not run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. "The University," Kennedy declared, has "met its burden of showing that the admissions policy it used at the time it rejected petitioner's application was narrowly tailored."

The case first arose in 2008 when Abigail Fisher, a white applicant, was denied undergraduate admission to the University of Texas at Austin (UT). Claiming that UT's affirmative action policy denied her the right to equal treatment under the law, Fisher sued in federal court, charging UT with violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. But Fisher lost in U.S. District Court in 2009 and then lost again before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in 2011. In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the 5th Circuit to rehear Fisher's case. That court then ruled against Fisher again. Today the Supreme Court affirmed the 5th Circuit's 2014 ruling in favor of the school's affirmative action program.

"A university is in large part defined by those intangible 'qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness,'" Justice Kennedy wrote today. "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."

Writing in dissent, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, accused Kennedy's majority opinion of turning the Equal Protection Clause on its head. "Even though UT has never provided any coherent explanation for its asserted need to discriminate on the basis of race, and even though UT's position relies on a series of unsupported and noxious racial assumptions," Alito wrote, "the majority concludes that UT has met its heavy burden. This conclusion is remarkable—and remarkably wrong."

In addition to joining Justice Alito's dissent, Justice Thomas also filed a short dissent of his own. "The Court's decision today," Thomas wrote, "is irreconcilable with strict scrutiny, rests on pernicious assumptions about race, and departs from many of our precedents."

The Supreme Court's opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin in available here.