The Slatest

Supreme Court Goes Small With Affirmative-Action Ruling

A tour group of young children walk out of the U.S. Supreme Court, on June 10, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Supreme Court finally ruled on one of the Big Three Monday, but the decision was a bit anticlimactic: In a 7-1 decision on the affirmative action case known as Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin, the high court essentially passed on issuing a sweeping opinion and instead sent the issue back to a lower court.

Here’s Politico with the early analysis:

Writing for the court’s conservatives and two of its liberals in the 7-1 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the university did not demonstrate that the program was “narrowly tailored” to meets its goals. The ruling emphasized “strict scrutiny” for educational affirmative action programs, but didn’t exclude the possibility that UT or other schools would be able to show such programs to be both necessary and carefully managed.


And here’s SCOTUSBlog with the a little more analysis on whether the decision represents a “punt” by the high court or simply a compromise between conservatives and liberals on the bench:

[T]he word “compromise” seems most appropriate, and “punt” gets there in second place. The Court is clearly not deciding whether UT’s program is constitutional or not; it’s clearly not overruling Grutter; but it’s clearly also sending a signal that it’s serious about the “narrow tailoring” rule.

The main pull-quote form the decision seems to be: “The reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” As the Associated Press explains, the decision “leaves unsettled many of the basic questions about the continued use of race as a factor in college admissions.” Justice Ginsburg was the lone dissenter. Justice Kagan had recused herself. Here’s the majority opinion.

The high court also handed down decisions on several other relatively minor cases, but did not tackle either gay marriage or voting rights. The wait continues for those two potential landmark decisions. The court did, however, announce that it will return tomorrow at 10 a.m., so the wait may not be a long one.

Slate will have more on today’s decision a bit later.

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This post has been updated with additional information as it became available.