Fisher v. U. Texas at Austin

The SCOTUS has ruled in this much-anticipated affirmative action case. In a 7-1 ruling (Justice Kagan recusing herself, and Justice Ginsburg dissenting), the Court ruled that since the lower court did not rigorously apply the strict scrutiny standard, they need to re-examine the case. In particular, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, made it clear that the court could not simply take the word of the university that no other race-neutral admissions policies would achieve its diversity goals. Thus, the Court clarified that universities need to demonstrate that a race-conscious admissions policy in fact achieves the diversity goals and that no alternative race-neutral policy would do so.

This ruling is mixed for on one hand, the Court did not overturn Grutter (permitting race-conscious admissions policies), although both Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas indicated in their concurring opinions that they would overturn Grutter if given the chance; and on the other hand, the opinion appears to make it more difficult for university admissions policies to pass the strict scrutiny standard by requiring more evidence.

Most interestingly, in her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg argued that even ostensibly race-neutral policies (such as Texas’ 10% Plan) are not really race-neutral.  This is because the 10% Plan, for example, was crafted with Texas’ racially segregated housing in mind.  She is arguing that policies that are race-neutral or color-blind in fact are not so neutral because they sustain the status quo in which whites already benefit from having a systematic advantage.