June 24, 2013
Tulane Law School Professor Stephen Griffin said the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action Monday (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin) looks narrow but might have set a standard universities will find difficult to meet.
“The Court’s decision was a narrow one that lower court judges might nevertheless interpret broadly as a sign that time is up for affirmative action,” Griffin said.
In a 7-1 decision, the court sent a reverse-discrimination suit back to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans for another look using a stricter standard. The plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, who is white, had argued that UT wrongly rejected her application and shouldn’t be able to take race into account in admissions decisions. The 5th Circuit had ruled against her, but now will have to reconsider. Fisher subsequently graduated from Louisiana State University.
“The decision was narrow in that the court left in place all of the decisions allowing affirmative action on the grounds of race and did not decide the merits of the Texas case, leaving that to the 5th Circuit,” Griffin said.
“But it could be read broadly because the Court made it very clear that the burden is on universities not only to justify their policies under the rigorous standard known as ‘strict scrutiny,’ but also to show that there are no other ‘workable’ race-neutral alternatives. This may be a difficult standard for universities to meet.”