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Supreme Court Punts on Affirmative Action; Returns Ruling to Lower Court (Update)

Rachel Adams-Heard for KUT News

Update: UT Austin officials are reacting today’s ruling on the university’s use of race as a factor in admissions decision. 

For UT, the 7 to 1 ruling from the Supreme Court sending the case back to a lower court doesn’t change anything – for now. President Bill Powers painted the ruling as a win for UT Austin – and higher education in general.

“There were a number of directions the justices could have turned in today’s ruling. And this 7-1 ruling represents a positive outcome for this university for state and for nation," President Powers said.

But Edward Blum, the lawyer for plaintiff Abigail Fisher, also says the courts nearly unanimous decision to return the case to the lower court is a sign of victory for Fisher.

“We’re all going back to fifth circuit with now a very strong opinion that cuts across ideological lines concerning the standard UT has to apply when they use race in admissions policy. It is undeniable that strict scrutiny applies at this level and UT’s reintroduction of race will fail that strict scrutiny test. I’m confident of that," Blum said.

It’s expected to be another year before the case is decided in the Fifth Circuit court. 

Update: The University of Texas says it's "encouraged" by the Supreme Court's ruling today regarding UT v Fisher.

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. We remain committed to assembling a student body at The University of Texas at Austin that provides the educational benefits of diversity on campus while respecting the rights of all students and acting within the constitutional framework established by the Court. Today's ruling will have no impact on admissions decisions we have already made or any immediate impact on our holistic admissions policies.

University President Bill Powers is holding a press conference at 2 p.m. to discuss the decision. He'll be joined  by Vice Provost Kedra Ishop, and Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Greg Vincent. KUT will update this post as more information becomes available. 

Update: NPR has much more on Fisher v. Texas, including analysis from legal correspondent Nina Totenberg. She calls the ruling “essentially a compromise between the court's conservatives and liberals and Justice Kennedy,” and notes the ruling was much more narrow than many observers expected. 

Update: Here’s a link to the Supreme Court opinion.

The Supreme Court says the Fifth Circuit and District Court did not properly examine UT’s affirmative action program as it was supposed to under a 2003 affirmative action case, Grutter v Bollinger. The Grutter case says the court must apply “strict scrutiny” to a university’s admissions program, to ensure diversity is not defined as “mere racial balancing.” Therefore, the Supreme Court says it’s returning the case to the Fifth Circuit, so it can properly examine whether UT’s affirmative action policy has a compelling state interest to achieve diversity.

UT says it will have a statement later today. 

Original Story (9:35 a.m.): The U.S. Supreme Court has returned a ruling on the University of Texas’ use of race as a factor in admissions to the lower court it emerged from. The court didn’t rule explicitly on UT’s use of race in the admissions process.

The case involved a young woman named Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to UT.

Most students at UT are granted automatic admission through what’s known as the top 10 percent rule. Those are students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Fisher did not rank in the top ten percent of her class. She applied under the regular admissions process, which includes a range of factors – one of which is race.  Fisher – who is white – claimed she was discriminated against on the basis of her race.

The university argued it has an interest in ensuring a diverse student body.

Here’s an overview of the case.

KUT will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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