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Timeline: Milestones in U.S. top court's affirmative action case
December 9, 2015 / 5:25 PM / in 2 years

Timeline: Milestones in U.S. top court's affirmative action case

(Reuters) - The dispute over race-based university student admissions policy that went before the U.S. Supreme on Wednesday traces to 2008.

Here is a timeline of key action in the case.


Abigail Fisher, a high school student in suburban Houston at the time, is rejected for admission to the University of Texas at Austin. Conservative legal activist Edward Blum, a Fisher family friend who has long backed lawsuits against racial policies, enlists Abigail to challenge the university’s admissions program.

The white teenager claims she was wrongly rejected while minority students with lesser scores and grades were accepted. That assertion and her individual situation have never been tested at trial. Rather, as the case has worked its way to the Supreme Court, it has tested whether the university’s admissions policy was sufficiently tailored to its interest in fostering campus diversity. The state’s flagship public university enrolls most freshmen through a program guaranteeing admission to students in roughly the top 10 percent of their high school classes. A supplemental program considers the race of applicants along with other characteristics intended to bring more diversity to the university’s student population.


A U.S. district court judge rules for the University of Texas, rejecting Fisher’s claim that the racial policy violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, based in New Orleans, affirms the lower-court decision, endorsing the educational benefits of a diverse student population and stressing that the university uses race as just one factor to ensure campus diversity. It also notes that applicants are considered on an individual basis, rather than under a quota system.


Fisher graduates from Louisiana State University.


After Fisher appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices hold a contentious session of oral arguments and spend eight months weighing a decision, then compromise with a ruling that sends the case back to the 5th Circuit. The justices decline to assess the constitutionality of the university’s admissions program. They instead tell the appeals court it was too deferential to the university in its review and ask the lower court to reconsider its ruling.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit again upholds the University of Texas program, saying the school had sufficiently justified its limited use of race to foster campus diversity.


Fisher appeals the 2014 ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which again decides to hear the case, one of the most important of its current term. During oral arguments on Wednesday, the court appears closely divided over the university’s affirmative action program. Its ruling is expected by the end of June 2016.

Compiled by Joan Biskupic; Editing by Will Dunham

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