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United States Supreme Court Upholds Holistic Approach to Affirmative Action Policies

On June 24, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin et al. that race can be considered as one of multiple “plus factors,” but not the sole factor, in the public university admissions process. The Court’s decision reaffirms its holding in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), that a diverse student body was a compelling interest that could justify the narrowly-tailored use of race in selecting applicants for admission to public universities. As in Grutter, the Fisher decision also prohibits the use of a quota system or the use of race as the only factor in the public university admissions process. See also Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003) (holding unconstitutional an admissions program that automatically awarded points to applicants from certain racial groups). The Court emphasized that race or ethnic origin are suspect classifications and require courts to apply strict scrutiny in reviewing university admissions programs that consider such factors. Because the lower court in Fisher did not apply strict scrutiny to the University of Texas’s policy, the Court vacated and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit so that the court could assess whether the University had offered sufficient evidence to prove that its admissions program was narrowly tailored to obtain the educational benefits of diversity.

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