By: Andrew Patrick
Blog Category: Racial Implications of Recent Supreme Court Decisions
The recent United States Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin did little to clear up the issues surrounding affirmative action’s role in the higher education admission process. The case involved a challenge to the University of Texas at Austin’s (“University”) undergraduate admission process, which considered potential applicant’s race. The Petitioner, a white female, sued the University after being denied admission alleging that the consideration of race in the admissions process violated the Equal Protection Clause. The 7-1 decision vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that the lower court failed to correctly apply the “strict scrutiny standard” consistent with precedent.
The opinion authored by Justice Kennedy indicated that the Fifth Circuit did not make an “independent searching examination,” which was essential in determining whether the University’s affirmative action plan was narrowly tailored. The University had the burden of showing that there were “no workable race-neutral alternatives [which] would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” The Court of Appeals mistakenly gave deference to the University’s judgment with respect to the means of achieving the compelling interest of diversity. The case was remanded to the lower court where the University will be required to demonstrate that their admission process is in fact narrowly tailored to achieving the educational benefits of diversity.
Going forward, this decision imposes a significant evidentiary burden on educational institutions that consider racial classifications in the admissions process. Universities will be required to “demonstrat[e], before turning to racial classification, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice.”
Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 132 S.Ct. 2411 (2013).