June 25, 2013

Breaking News: USSC Issues Decision in Fisher vs. UT Austin

The United States Supreme Court issued its 7-1 decision in Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin today.  Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, Justice Ginsburg dissented, Justice Kagan recused herself.

The Court vacated the decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal which had upheld the University’s consideration of race as one of many factors when evaluating applicants for admission.  The Court found that the Fifth Circuit did not appropriately apply the required strict standard of scrutiny.   When racial classifications are used, they are constitutional only if they meet the test for strict scrutiny, which requires a showing of (1) a compelling state interest (in this case diversity as an educational goal) and (2) that the use of such racial classifications is narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling state interest.

According to the majority opinion, the Fifth Circuit accorded the University too much deference when it held that the Petitioner, Abigail Fisher, could only challenge whether the University’s decision to use race as an admissions factor “was made in good faith.”   According to the Court, the University had been given too much deference as to whether its plan was “narrowly tailored to achieve its stated goal” in achieving a more diverse student body.  As such, the Fifth Circuit must review the case again under the strict scrutiny standard without according the University such deference.

We cannot predict what the Fifth Circuit will do.  The Supreme Court has accepted another admissions case and we believe that this issue is far from over.  In concurring opinions today, Justices Thomas and Scalia signaled that they do not consider the educational benefits of diversity to be a compelling state interest that justifies the use of race in evaluating candidates for admission.

Given all of this uncertainty and the impact that diversity has on all of our workplaces, we will continue to monitor this situation and will keep you posted…