Last week, the United States Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action policies in Fisher v. University of Texas. While not directly related to employment law, the decision is an important sign of the Court’s commitment to diversity and may be indicative of how future decisions will come down.
The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, is a Caucasian woman from Texas who was denied admission to the University of Texas in 2008. She filed a lawsuit, claiming the University’s affirmative action program was discriminatory against her because the program allowed the school to consider race and ethnicity as one factor in making admission decisions. Because she is not a minority, Fisher argued the policy disadvantaged her (and other Caucasian applicants).
The Supreme Court rejected Fisher’s arguments and delivered the message that “admissions officials may continue to consider race as one factor among many in ensuring a diverse student body.” President Obama visited with reporters at the White House after the Court delivered the opinion, and said “I’m pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the basic notion that diversity is an important value in our society. We are not a country that guarantees equal outcomes, but we do strive to provide an equal shot to everybody.”
The last major affirmative action cases before Fisher (Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger) were decided in 2003. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the majority opinion in Grutter and said the Court expected that “25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary.” Fisher comes just about halfway through Justice O’Connor’s predicted 25-year time period. It will be interesting to see what the Court does in the next 12 years with affirmative action. For now, the Supreme Court recognizes that diversity in higher education is still a compelling enough interest to warrant affirmative action programs.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/18378305@N00/19123319149″>Pittsbrugh architecture</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>