SCOTUS Affirmative Action Ruling: A Punt?

Abigail Fisher's case against the University of Texas' admissions policy has been sent back to the 5th Circuit. But the court upheld the principle that schools can consider diversity.

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Abigail Fisher (Getty Images)

(The Root) -- In a majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court issued its ruling today in Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas, a case challenging the school's use of race as one factor in admissions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which upheld the university's policy, was vacated and remanded, SCOTUSBlog reports. In other words, the case was sent back to the lower court, in what some are describing as a "punt" (versus the definitive ruling on the constitutionality of the race-conscious admissions policy that many were eagerly awaiting).

That decision was based on the majority's assessment that, in evaluating UT's admissions program, the 5th Circuit did not hold the university to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated in previous landmark affirmative action cases. (One, Grutter v. University of Michigan Law School, was the 2003 decision in which the court held that the University of Michigan Law School could use race as one factor in its admissions process as part of its efforts to create a diverse student body.)

"Today's decision in Fisher leaves intact the Supreme Court's precedent in Grutter that universities can adopt affirmative action plans when necessary, and proponents of diversity in higher education can take some comfort in that," Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "It is good news," he told The Root, "because it upheld the principle from Grutter that said that, when necessary, schools can consider race in achieving diversity."

"It's extremely disappointing that the Supreme Court did not affirm the constitutionality of the University of Texas affirmative action plan. But it's not a total loss, because for the time being, the University of Texas plan is still in place," said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee.

Read the full opinion and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent here.

Read The Root's refresher on the case and what was at stake here.

Check back for more details on the decision and reactions from the civil rights community.

Read more at SCOTUSBlog and SFGate.

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