The Court Reporter - Commentary

United State Supreme Court To Reconsider Affirmative Action in Higher Education

Published on: 2/21/2012
Alison Y. Ashe-Card of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice

The United States Supreme Court will reconsider the issue of affirmative action in higher education for the first time since its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.  In Grutter the Court held that, “The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the [University of Michigan] Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”  Today, the Court agreed to hear the appeal of Abigail Fisher, a white student, who alleges she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of the color of her skin.  At issue in the Fisher case is whether the Court’s decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, including Grutter, permit the University of Texas at Austin’s use of race in undergraduate admissions decisions.

The Texas case will be argued in the fall and the changed makeup of the Supreme Court could foretell a different outcome.  Chiefly, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote the majority 5-4 decision, has been replaced by Justice Samuel Alito.  Further, Justice Elena Kagan has been recused from the case.  Her recusal is likely a result of the Justice Department’s participation in the case in the lower courts at the time when she served as solicitor general.

What impact, if any, will the changed makeup up of the Supreme Court have on its decision?  Is there a compelling interest in obtaining educational benefits from a diverse student body?  Could a reversal of the Court’s decision in Grutter result in resegregation in public colleges and universities?

Alison Y. Ashe-Card is an attorney with Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge & Rice in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Contact Alison here.


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