For years, college admissions officers were on safe ground when considering race as a factor in their admissions programs to promote class diversity. This may change now that the Supreme Court has agreed to consider Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin. In Fisher, Plaintiff Abigail Fisher argues she was rejected by the school, not because of her grades or test scores, but because she is white.
In April 2003 the Court had seemingly resolved the issue in Grutter v. Bollinger. In that opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, writing for the majority, found that the University of Michigan Law School’s compelling interest in promoting class diversity justified a race-conscious admissions process, and not an unconstitutional race-based quota system. The decision, however, left open the possibility that such programs might be unnecessary in 25 years. While universities around the country may have relied upon this decision in implementing their own affirmative action programs, the quarter century timetable may have been accelerated when Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in an opinion striking down affirmative action programs in public high schools. In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, the Chief Justice opined that “[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Affirmative action proponents are concerned that the Court’s more conservative make up signals an end to affirmative action and the ability to promote diversity. Critics welcome the opportunity to remove race from the admissions process.
The Court’s newest Justice, Elena Kagan, will not participate in the review due to her prior involvement in the case while serving as U.S. Solicitor General. The Court is scheduled to consider the case in October, just before the 2012 elections.