July 15, 2015

Supreme Court to Reexamine Affirmative Action in Higher Education

Two years after examining the use of race in the University of Texas-Austin’s (UT) admissions process, the New York Times reports that the Supreme Court recently agreed to take another look at the practice when it granted certiorari to the same challenge on which it first ruled in 2013.

The university uses race as one factor among several in evaluating applicants, an approach it argues is consistent with past Supreme Court precedent. The plaintiff, however, argues that UT could achieve (and, in fact, did achieve) a diverse student body through race-neutral means, meaning that it’s unconstitutional for the university to consider race.

In 2013, the Court didn’t rule on the merits of the challenge, which had been rejected by lower courts. Rather, it remanded the case to the lower court (the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals) after finding that it did not properly apply the strict scrutiny standard of review to UT’s practice. (Courts use strict scrutiny when reviewing government programs that make racially-based distinctions. Under the standard, the government must identify a compelling goal for the program and, according to the article, “a close fit between means and ends.”) After the remand, the court of appeals upheld the admissions process for a second time.

Arguments before the Supreme Court are expected next fall.