The 4-3 decision affirmed the constitutional validity of race-conscious admissions programs, but also contained significant cautions. While universities are entitled to deference for exercising their academic judgment to pursue the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity, amorphous or elusive assertions of an educational interest are insufficient. Universities must articulate concrete and precise goals that demonstrate a compelling academic interest in diversity, such as ending stereotypes, promoting cross-racial understanding, and preparing students for an increasingly diverse society. Universities must also engage in “constant deliberation and continued reflection” regarding race-conscious admissions policies to determine whether available and workable race-neutral alternatives will achieve the same educational benefits. The decision also praised UT for the relatively limited number of admissions decisions in which race played a role.
The decision brings to end the eight-year legal journey of Abigail Fisher, a white student who asserted that the race-conscious admissions program unconstitutionally cost her a seat at UT. The first time this case came to the Supreme Court, in 2013, the Court articulated the standard by which race-conscious admissions programs must be measured. After the case’s return to the Supreme Court in 2015, the Court determined that UT’s admissions program meets that standard. The decision in the case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, was welcomed by many college admissions administrators.
Many of the Court's significant affirmative action challenges have come from higher education cases, so the ramifications of Fisher II will be felt broadly by any entity that has such a program.
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