Supreme Court Upholds Diversity in College Admissions

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled (4-3) in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, affirming the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and holding that the race-conscious admissions policy in use when Fisher applied to the university is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause.

“This decision is a victory for our nation’s young people, our universities, and our ability to compete in the global economy,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference. “After years of litigation in this case, the Supreme Court has determined that the University of Texas’ admissions program is constitutional. Today’s ruling continues the Court’s recognition of the importance of racial diversity in college admissions. As Justice Kennedy noted in this decision, student body diversity is central to a university’s identity and educational mission, and the university must be given deference to pursue those goals.”

In November, 16 civil rights and education groups joined The Leadership Conference and the Southern Poverty Law Center in filing an amicus curiae brief in the case.

The Court originally heard arguments in Fisher in October 2012, ruling (7-1) in June 2013 that universities may consider racial and ethnic diversity as one factor among many in a carefully crafted admissions policy. That decision reaffirmed the precedent set in the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger ruling, but it remanded the case back to the 5th Circuit Court to reconsider UT’s admissions plan under the strict scrutiny standard. Fisher was the first federal challenge to Grutter, which upheld an admissions policy at the University of Michigan Law School and broadly affirmed the important role diversity plays in education.

In a 2-1 ruling in July 2014, the Fifth Circuit Court, for a second time, upheld the University of Texas’ consideration of race as one of many factors in admission.

Thursday’s decision upheld that ruling.

“It’s in the national interest for talented students from a variety of backgrounds to get a fair chance and an enriched educational experience. Providing a diverse learning environment benefits students, our workforce, and the country as a whole,” Henderson said. “And today’s decision makes clear that America’s educational, business, and other institutions can pursue fair and thoughtful ways of fostering diverse participation.”

Read the decision here.