By next year, it looks as if university admissions may become color-blind. The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear a challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action admissions policy filed by a white applicant who was denied admission. The Court will decide whether to overturn its prior decisions on the use of race in university admissions.
The Court last reviewed race-conscious university admissions in 2003, holding that universities may promote diversity by considering race as one factor in a broad assessment of the applicant’s potential contribution to the educational environment. In a partner case, the Court overturned the University of Michigan’s undergrad admissions process which mechanically awarded points to minority applicants regardless of other factors.
Recent race decisions involving Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, both appointed to the Court after the admissions decision, may signal that the Court will overturn its previous ruling.
In 2007, the Court held assigning students to secondary and primary schools solely to promote racial integration was unconstitutional. Two years later, the Court struck down New Haven, Connecticut’s practice of reverse-race discrimination in its promotions within the fire department (you may recall that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, sitting on the Second Circuit before being elevated, sided with New Haven against the complaining fire fighters)
Justice Elena Kagan is expected to take no part in the decision due to her involvement in the case as Solicitor General. Her absence leaves the “liberal wing” of the Court with only three likely votes in the case. Justice Anthony Kennedy, often considered the Court’s swing vote, sided with the conservative dissent back in the 2003 admissions case.
In his opinion overturning race-based distinctions in school assignments, Chief Justice Roberts famously concluded: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Robert’s succinct summary of conservative thinking on the issue just might become the law of the land next year.