Susan Walsh, AP Images

June 24, 2013

In Narrow Ruling, Supreme Court Vacates Decision That Upheld Race-Conscious Admissions

After months of deliberation, the U.S. Supreme Court has vacated a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that had upheld the race-conscious admissions policy at the University of Texas at Austin. In a 7-to-1 ruling, from which Justice Elena Kagan was recused, the court held that the Fifth Circuit was incorrect in upholding a lower court’s summary judgment in favor of Texas because the lower court had failed to apply strict scrutiny to the university’s policy. The court left intact its precedent that diversity can be a compelling government interest.

Breaking Down the Decision

'Fisher' Ruling May Open a 'Wave of Litigation'

Many experts predicted the ruling would inspire legal challenges to race-conscious admissions policies that previously got the benefit of the doubt.

Colleges Need Documents and Data to Prove Compliance

Documentation and data are essential for assessing admissions policies in the wake of the ruling, college officials said, but even such evidence may not be sufficient to satisfy a court.

New Pressure on Colleges to Justify Affirmative Action

The court's ruling didn't substantially alter the legal landscape, but it put colleges under more pressure.

Supreme Court Puts Off Big Legal Questions

Rather than deciding a legal battle over a race-conscious admissions policy, the court called for that battle to be waged anew.

For Admissions Offices, 'Fuzziness' Remains

Public colleges got hit with the judicial equivalent of the pause button.

U. of Texas at Austin Awaits Scrutiny

The university must now demonstrate that race-neutral policies will not produce a sufficiently diverse student body.

For U. of Texas Students, Ruling Brings Mix of Surprise and Relief

On the Austin campus, some undergraduates said they expected a different ruling from the court.

Where the Justices Stood

The Supreme Court's 7-to-1 decision featured four separate opinions.


To Move Forward, We Must Look Back

As long as race plays a significant part in our society, how can colleges not take it into account in making their decisions? Lee Bollinger explains.

'Fisher' Is Not the Point

The dialogue shaped by this case misses bigger questions about how to revitalize our metropolitan regions, our economy, and our politics, writes Susan Sturm.

The Need for Courageous Dialogue in Admissions

The Fisher decision provides an opportunity for us to reflect deeply on the kind of society we want to be and how to get there, says Yvette Alex-Assensoh.

American Meritocracy, Version 2.0?

The ruling's requirement of "strict scrutiny" may force universities to lay bare their methods of defining merit—a good thing, says Peter Sacks.

High Court Reaches Low Point

The Supreme Court's nondecision on affirmative action is bizarre and incoherent, leaving more-crucial issues unaddressed, says Kevin Carey.

See You in Court

Although not definitive, the "Fisher" ruling increases the logistical and political complexity, and the expense, of affirmative-action programs, Roger Clegg writes.

A Classic Kennedy Compromise

Universities will have to be a lot more specific about how they are using racial preferences, writes Richard H. Sander.

Experts Weigh In

Richard Kahlenberg, Noliwe Rooks, Estela Bensimon, and other experts discuss the implications of the decision. Follow their conversation in real time here.

Other Reactions to the Ruling

President, U. of Texas at Austin | Committed to Diversity

“We’re encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case. We will continue to defend the university’s admission policy on remand in the lower court under the strict standards that the Court first articulated in the Bakke case, reaffirmed in the Grutter case, and laid out again today. We believe the university’s policy fully satisfies those standards." - William C. Powers Jr.

The Plaintiff | "Grateful to the Justices"

“I am grateful to the justices for moving the nation closer to the day when a student’s race isn’t used at all in college admissions. It has been a great privilege to witness how our legal system works to seek justice for an individual like me. The most important lesson I have learned during the last 5 years is to stick by your ideals even if it means some personal sacrifice.” - Abigail N. Fisher

U.S. Secretary of Education | Diversity is Critical

"As the Court has repeatedly recognized, a diverse student enrollment promotes cross-racial understanding and dialogue, reduces racial isolation, and helps to break down stereotypes. This is critical for the future of our country because racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in an increasingly diverse workforce and society." - Arne Duncan

American Council on Education | A Complex Ruling

“Today's ruling is a complex one, but it does make clear that colleges and universities will have work to do. Each institution will need to show that any process that considers race and ethnicity as part of a holistic admissions review is precisely tailored to meet the goals of achieving the educational benefits that flow from diversity. Our colleges and universities seek to create the most challenging possible academic environment and produce students fully prepared to function in today's society. A diverse student body is critical to that pursuit.” - Molly Corbett Broad, president

Association of American Universities | A Definitive Decision Remains for Another Day

"AAU is pleased that the ruling does not overrule the Bakke, Grutter, or Gratz decisions, and leaves in place prior rulings that the educational benefits of broadly defined diversity are a compelling interest for those colleges and universities that judge such diversity to be important to achieving their educational missions." - Hunter R. Rawlings, president

How Did We Get Here?

Abigail N. Fisher’s lawsuit argues that the University of Texas violated the limits on race-conscious admissions policies set forth by the Supreme Court in two 2003 decisions. She believes she was not admitted to the University of Texas because of illegal criteria that favored black and Hispanic applicants. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy (at left) wrote the Supreme Court’s majority opinion. Read more background

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on October 10, 2012. Listen to the arguments

The Chronicle has been covering race-conscious admissions since the late 1970s.See the timeline

Susan Walsh, AP Images

Abigail N. Fisher, the plaintiff in the case, appeared at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington on the day last fall that the court heard oral arguments.