Last February, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case brought by a white college applicant against the University of Texas at Austin after she was denied admission by the school.
Her argument? She was qualified for admission, and UT Austin’s race-conscious—i.e., “affirmative action”—admissions policy illegally discriminated against her.
(Here’s more background info, courtesy of the Chronicle of Higher Education.)
Monday, the Supreme Court finally issued a ruling. It stated that the prior decision made by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in this case—specifically, that UT Austin’s admissions staff considered race a legal way—was reached erroneously as it placed an unfair burden on the plaintiff to prove otherwise. However, it indicated that it did not have enough information to make its own ruling on the matter, so it sent the case back to the lower courts.
Long story short: this case can still go either way, so it is unclear how it might ultimately affect future college applicants.
One possible outcome: The Supreme Court’s previous ruling on the matter—which deemed race-conscious admissions policies legal, with some limitations—will be elaborated upon, and colleges will have more guidelines for the use of race in admissions procedures.
Another possibility: race-conscious admissions will be deemed illegal. Yet, even in this scenario, it is unlikely that colleges’ quests for diverse student bodies will end. Eight U.S. states currently ban “affirmative action”; while race cannot be a stated factor in the admissions policies of their colleges and universities, these institutions still seek diverse student bodies. (Check out this NPR story on the way UCLA’s admissions policies have changed since the state of California banned “affirmative action” in 1996.)
One final note here is that the effects of this case won’t be limited to public institutions of higher education. Private colleges and universities receive federal money; as such, they are required by law to avoid racial discrimination.