Federal Relations

June 24, 2013

Fisher v. University of Texas Ruling

Today, the Supreme Court came out with its ruling on the case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin that lower courts did not apply a sufficiently high level of scrutiny to the University of Texas’s use of race in admissions decisions, sending the case back to one of those lower courts to be reconsidered.

In a 7-1 ruling, the court found that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit erred in not applying “strict scrutiny” to the policies of the University of Texas at Austin (UT). The Supreme Court left intact its precedent that diversity can be a compelling government interest.The case has been sent back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Writing the majority opinion was Justice Kennedy, who was joined by all of the conservative members of the court and Justice Sotomayer. Justice Ginsberg wrote the lone dissent. Justice Kagan recused herself because of her work on the case as Solicitor General.

The case was brought by Abigail Fisher, a white woman, who was rejected for admission by the UT. Fisher said that her rights were violated by UT’s consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. Fisher’s lawyers argued that UT need not consider race because it has found another way to assure diversity in the student body.

The decision said that “good faith” by the university would not be enough to justify the consideration of race. However, the decision does not offer an opinion on whether UT can produce sufficient evidence. Rather, it faults the appeals court for not reviewing that question using the high bar of “strict scrutiny” for the consideration of race.

It is likely that today’s ruling could mean that — after another round at the Fifth Circuit — the case could return to the Supreme Court.