On June 24th the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al. – a highly anticipated decision and the court’s most prominent opportunity to address affirmative action in the last decade. Fisher involves the use of race in the higher education admissions context and experts speculated the Court’s decision may shed light on affirmative action principles outside the admissions context.
In its decision, the Court made clear that racial diversity does not permit quotas or predetermined percentages of minority results. Unfortunately for those hoping for more guidance on the scope of permissible affirmative action processes, the Court’s decision disappoints. In reversing the Fifth Circuit’s ruling to affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment, the Supreme Court held courts must “close[ly] analy[ze] the evidence of how the process works in practice” to determine whether the approach is narrowly tailored to achieve student body diversity.” The court returned the case to the lower court to apply the proper standard.
Should Fisher find its way back to the High Court, the Justices will have another opportunity to address the topic and provide more definitive guidance. But if this decision is any indication, the Court may once again decide to punt on this issue instead of addressing it head on.