The Supreme Court on Monday ordered lower courts to take a fresh look, under a more demanding standard, at the race-conscious admissions policy used to admit students to the University of Texas. The 7-to-1 decision was simultaneously modest and significant, and its recalibration of how courts review the constitutionality of affirmative action programs is likely to give rise to a wave of challenges to admissions programs at colleges and universities nationwide.
For now, the Texas program and other affirmative action programs can continue without changes.
The decision did not disturb the Supreme Court’s general approach to affirmative action in admissions decisions, saying that educational diversity is a government interest sufficient to overcome the general ban on racial classifications by the government. But the court added that public institutions must have good reasons to use the particular means they use to achieve that goal, which can include different admissions standards for students of different races.
That requirement could endanger the Texas program when it is reconsidered by the federal appeals court in New Orleans. The Texas program admits most students under race-neutral criteria, accepting all students in the state who graduate near the top of their high school classes. But the university also uses a race-conscious system as a supplement.