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Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
A demonstrator holds a sign aloft as the affirmative action in university admissions case was being heard at the Supreme Court in Washington, December 9, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – RTX1XX96
LANDMARK RULING

The US Supreme Court rules for affirmative action in college admissions—if used responsibly

Amy X. Wang
By Amy X. Wang

Reporter

Diversity advocates scored a huge victory this morning (June 23), as the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of affirmative action practices—also known as positive discrimination, or race-conscious decisions—in college admissions.

Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin involved a white woman who claimed she was rejected from the University of Texas because of race-based admissions policies that helped minorities and discriminated against her. In its decision (pdf) today, the court sided with a lower court’s ruling that Abigail Fisher was not denied admission because of her race, and also that the school has a legitimate reason for practicing affirmative action.

By upholding UT’s race-conscious admissions policy, the Supreme Court confirms that colleges across the country are allowed to consider applicants’ race, though only to a measured, responsible extent (i.e. viewing race as just one factor out of many). Supporters of race-conscious admissions argue that it both creates a more diverse campus environment and increases minority students’ access to college. The court tacked on a stipulation in its decision that schools practicing affirmative action policies must routinely re-evaluate their policies to make sure they’re absolutely necessary.

“It’s a good decision, with an accountability provision,” says Stella Flores, a professor and director at the New York University Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy. “A lot of us thought it’d go in the direction of not affirming race in admissions—and the consequences for that were really quite great, in terms of the nation’s struggle to reduce inequality.” Flores adds that the caveat about responsible practices suggests a hope that “one day we will not need to consider race, because inequality will not be so persistent.”

Racial inequality has been a heated topic in higher education this past year, as colleges grappled with racial unrest on their campuses. Polls show the majority of Americans support the practice of affirmative action in college admissions.

Today’s ruling was one of the three most highly anticipated decisions of the court’s current term, the other two having to do with Barack Obama’s immigration plan and abortion rights. The court split on his immigration plan, leaving in place a lower court ruling blocking Obama’s plan.

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