Passing the Buck

Supreme Court sends University of Texas affirmative action case back to court

Supreme Court sends UT Austin affirmative action case back to court

University of Texas at Austin, campus, tower
Abigail Fisher wanted to attend the University of Texas at Austin but ended up at Louisiana State University instead.

After months of waiting, the Supreme Court has handed down a ruling on the controversial affirmative action case of Abigail Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin. In a 7-1 decision delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court sent the case back to a lower court for further review. 

Fisher's case alleging racial discrimination went before the U.S. Supreme Court on October 10, just two weeks into the term. Experts expected an opinion much sooner, and the rumor mill churned out plenty of potential reasons for the delay. The actual ruling ended up being much less exciting than all the anticipation

"Because the Court of Appeals did not apply the correct standard of strict scrutiny, its decision affirming the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the University was incorrect," reads the June 24 opinion. "That decision is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings."

Rather than settling the matter, the Supreme Court decision puts the basic questions of the case back on a federal appeals court.  

A white student from the Houston-area suburb of Sugar Land, Fisher had a 3.59 GPA but was not in the top 10 percent of her graduating class. Since 1997, Texas students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high schools have been guaranteed admission to state universities. 

She was denied admission to UT in 2008 and brought suit against the university, alleging that her race was an unfair factor in her rejection. This is a possibility, given that in 2004 the University of Texas revamped its admission policy to allow race to be a factor in the holistic review of students outside the top 10 percent. 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissenter on the decision, and Justice Elena Kagan recused herself.