In June 2015, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case of Abigail Fisher, an aggressively mediocre white woman who, after being rejected from the University of Texas, challenged the school’s affirmative action program. At the center was UT’s admissions program, that admits students based on two factors: first, it accepts all Texas students who finished in the top ten percent of their class; second, it fills remaining spots by looking at the academic achievements and “Personal Achievement Index.” That index includes race among its factors.

Since Fisher was not in the top ten percent of her class, she was not admitted in into the University’s 2008 freshman class. She argued that the “holistic” approach to fill remaining spots, “disadvantaged her and other Caucasian applicants, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.”

Previously the Fifth Circuit court sided with the university, but Thursday, in a 4-3 ruling (Kagan had recused herself), SCOTUS upheld the lower court, reaffirming that “race-conscious admissions” does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. SCOTUS also hinted that the problem might have been Abigail Fisher herself, who have had a clear road to UT if she had finished in the top ten percent of her class. The court noted that the vast majority of the university’s admissions (75 percent) came from this process. From today’s ruling:

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The component with the largest impact on petitioner’s chances of admission was not the school’s consideration of race under its holistic-review process but the Top Ten Percent Plan. Because petitioner did not challenge the percentage part of the plan, the record is devoid of evidence of its impact on diversity.

In 2003, SCOTUS ruled in Grutter vs. Bollinger that a free-standing admissions program was allowed to consider race as part of a holistic admissions process. In his majority opinion, Anthony Kennedy cited Grutter multiple occasions:

As this Court has said, enrolling a diverse student body “promotes cross-racial understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races.” Equally important, “student body diversity promotes learning outcomes, and better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society.”

Ultimately, the majority decided that UT’s admissions process met that “holistic” necessity was not simply a quota system, which the court had previously deemed unconstitutional. Kennedy was joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, dissented.


Image via AP.