(This developing story will be updated.)
WASHINGTON ― The U.S. Supreme Court handed the University of Texas at Austin a major victory Thursday in support of its right to consider race and ethnicity as a component of its admissions policy.
In a 4-3 ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court rejected the challenge of a White woman, Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to the university in 2008. Fisher maintained that the university turned her away in favor of lesser-qualified Black and Hispanic applicants, violating her Constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The university, which guarantees freshman admission to students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school, said Fisher did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her high school class and would not have been admitted with or without race as a factor. But officials did conditionally offer to allow her to transfer in as a sophomore if she maintained a 3.2 grade point average at another public college in Texas.
Instead, Fisher went to Louisiana State University, from which she graduated in 2012, and pursued her lawsuit. Fisher, now 26, had been recruited for the suit by Edward Blum, an opponent of racial preferences who has been successful in persuading the Supreme Court to hear cases challenging the use of race in education and politics. Blum was behind a major challenge to the landmark Voting Rights Act that resulted in the court eviscerating a key provision of the law and he also led an unsuccessful challenge to states’ widespread practice of counting all their residents, not just those eligible to vote, in drawing legislative districts.
The case became the battle ground for advocates of affirmative action and their opponents.
Kennedy said in his majority opinion that the Texas plan complied with earlier court rulings allowing colleges to take account of race in pursuit of diversity on campus. “The university has thus met its burden of showing that the admissions policy it used … was narrowly tailored,” Kennedy wrote.
The court’s three more conservative justices dissented, and Justice Samuel Alito read portions of his dissent from the bench. In a separate dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas repeated his view that the Constitution outlaws any use of race in higher education admissions.
The court had agreed to hear this case before conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died Feb. 13. Scalia had said at oral arguments that minority students with inferior academic credentials may be better off at “a less advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.”
Justice Elena Kagan sat out the case because she worked on it while serving in the Justice Department.
Justices heard Fisher’s case once before, and issued an inconclusive ruling in 2013 that sent her case back to a lower court and set the stage for Thursday’s decision.
Contibuting: Associated Press