The U.S. Supreme Court avoided a major ruling on affirmative action in college student admissions on Monday, but warned that university policies that take race into account could be more vulnerable to legal challenges in the future.
In a lopsided 7-1 vote that few expected, the justices sent a case about the policy at the University of Texas at Austin back to a lower court for reconsideration.
That means Abigail Fisher, a white woman from suburban Houston, will have a second chance to argue that she was wrongly rejected entry to the university while minority students with similar grades and test scores were admitted thanks to the admissions policy.
To the relief of affirmative action supporters, the high court left intact existing court precedent that allows for limited consideration of race in university admissions.
Elaborating on how its previous rulings should be interpreted, the Supreme Court ruled that when an appeals court rehears the case, it must show less deference to the university when analyzing whether the policy violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection That means the University of Texas program still hangs in the balance.
Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University and a leading affirmative action supporter, said the ruling would likely further embolden opponents of such programs.
“People who are opposed to this are very determined,” he said. “I would fully anticipate challenges continuing.”