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Factbox: Major U.S. Supreme Court affirmative action cases
December 9, 2015 / 5:31 PM / in 2 years

Factbox: Major U.S. Supreme Court affirmative action cases

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in a major affirmative action case involving racial policies in college admissions. The case was brought by a white applicant denied a place at the University of Texas at Austin.

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington June 8, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Following are major Supreme Court decisions affecting university affirmative action.

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978)

In a 5-4 ruling, the court decided that universities may consider an applicant’s race as one of many factors in admissions without violating the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equality but they may not impose quotas or set aside a specific number of places for minorities. Justice Lewis Powell highlighted the value of diversity in education as he provided the key fifth vote for both parts of the ruling.

Grutter v. Bollinger, Gratz v. Bollinger (2003)

By a 5-4 vote in the first case and a 6-3 vote in the second, the court upheld a University of Michigan law school program that considered the race of an applicant among several factors, and separately rejected an undergraduate admissions system that automatically gave minorities extra credit to boost their chances of acceptance. Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor wrote the leading opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger allowing the continuation of race-based affirmative action on campus.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2013)

In a 7-1 ruling in a case brought by a white applicant named Abigail Fisher who was denied admission in 2008 to the University of Texas, the justices sidestepped a decision on the merits of affirmative action and told a lower court to take another look at a race-based admissions policy that supplements Texas’s “Top 10” program. That program grants students in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes admission to the flagship state university. The dispute was over whether the university’s supplemental policy, which looks at an array of student characteristics including race, was narrowly tailored and developed only after race-neutral options were tried. The Supreme Court said a lower appeals court granted the university too much deference and should have given more scrutiny to the school’s justification for using racial criteria. Justice Elena Kagan, who formerly was U.S. solicitor general and backed the Texas program, did not participate in the case.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2015)

The Supreme Court for a second time considered Fisher’s challenge to the University of Texas admissions policy. Fisher graduated from Louisiana State University in 2012. During oral arguments on Wednesday, the justices appeared closely divided over the university’s policy, with liberals voicing support for affirmative action programs and conservatives questioning why the Texas program was needed for campus diversity. Kagan again did not participate in the case. The court’s ruling was expected by the end of June 2016.

Compiled by Joan Biskupic; Editing by Will Dunham

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