In a 4-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court said that race could still be a factor in college admissions.
Last week, the Fisher v. University of Texas case had a chance to set precedents for how other cases involving affirmative action disputes might proceed. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy had displayed a longtime mistrust of race-based programs. The last affirmative action case brought to the court (2003’s Grutter v. Bollinger about the University of Michigan Law School) resulted in him writing the dissenting opinion.
This time, Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in favor of University of Texas’ current policy.
“Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission,” wrote Kennedy. “But still, it remains an enduring challenge to our nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”
Not all were happy with the result, however. In his dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito called the case “affirmative action gone wild.” But the decision earned the praise of American Federation of Teachers’ President Randi Weingarten.
“The AFT, as the nation’s largest union of faculty and a longtime champion of racial equity, joins with our allies in celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm what we already know—that affirmative action is one tool among many to level the opportunity playing field and to combat racial segregation and inequity,” said Weingarten in a statement. “Students—regardless of race or ethnicity—deserve access to a quality higher education. And our colleges and universities are strengthened through diverse student bodies, which provide richer learning environments for all students.”
“Affirmative action promotes diversity, but more importantly, it helps level an unjustly tilted playing field,” continued Weingarten. “For people of color, massive income inequality and gross disparities in educational opportunity mean that learning and career opportunities too often remain separate and unequal.”
Weingarten’s statement aligned with the views of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose public statement emphasized the importance of college outside of academics.
“Education on college campuses is about more than books and exams,” read part of the NAACP’s statement. “As the University of Texas and its supporters successfully argued to the Court, the college education experience allows students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences to live and work together in a variety of settings. Bringing together students from widely varied backgrounds is a critical part of the process of educating a new generation of leaders.”