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Supreme Court Sends Affirmative Action Case Back To Lower Court

NPR | June 24, 2013 5:39 p.m.

Contributed By:

Mark Memmott, Eyder Peralta, Scott Neuman

Abigail Noel Fisher, who challenged a racial component to University of Texas at Austin's admissions policy, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court building during oral in the case in October.

Abigail Noel Fisher, who challenged a racial component to University of Texas at Austin's admissions policy, speaks to the media outside the U.S. Supreme Court building during oral in the case in October.

Getty Images, Mark Wilson

One of the Supreme Court’s most anticipated cases of its current term — a challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action admissions process — has ended with a ruling that does not revisit the fundamental issue of whether such programs discriminate against whites.

In a 7-1 ruling, the high court “vacated and remanded” an earlier decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which had upheld the university’s program. (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because when she was a lawyer at the Justice Department she had been involved in the case.)

The case originated with a young woman named Abigail Fisher. She and another student, who later withdrew as a plaintiff, say they were denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin because of their race. Specifically, since Fisher failed to meet the school’s academic requirements for automatic admission, her application was evaluated based on a number of other factors, including race.

The justices ruled Monday that the lower court “did not hold the university to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated” in an earlier Supreme Court ruling — 2003’s Grutter v. Bollinger. So, the justices sent the case back to the lower court. Essentially, the court did not change current law.

Even further back, in the landmark 1978 decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court outlawed minority quotas, ruling the University of California at Davis Medical School’s admission process unconstitutional for setting aside a number of seats for various minority groups.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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