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Supreme Court sends Fisher v. University of Texas back to lower court

In a long-anticipated ruling on affirmative action case Fisher v. University of Texas, the United States Supreme Court voted 7-1 yesterday to return the case to a lower appeals court—a ruling that advocates and opponents of affirmative action are both calling a victory.

There won’t be any immediate consequences on affirmative action policies at Columbia or any other University from the case, in which a white student, Abigail Fisher, argued that she had been unfairly denied admission to U of T because of her race.

However, the justices called for the lower court to use a higher level of scrutiny when evaluating affirmative action, which could spell trouble for those policies in future cases.

For now, at least, the court declined to overturn the precedent set in Grutter v. Bollinger, a 2003 Supreme Court case in which University President Lee Bollinger successfully argued for the constitutionality of race-based affirmative action programs.

“I breathed a slight sigh of relief on Monday,” Bollinger wrote in a New York Times opinion piece today. “But I worry that the new ruling will empower lower courts and, no doubt, litigants to challenge benign considerations of race—those that seek to advance legitimate goals of diversity in education—more easily than ever.”

It could be difficult to meet the higher bar of scrutiny the court has set, Bollinger wrote.

“While a strong majority has affirmed the status quo on affirmative action, for now, advocates of racial justice have much work ahead of us before the next time this issue reaches the high court,” he wrote.

In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered on Monday, Bollinger called the decision a victory, saying it added to “several decades of Supreme Court decisions approving affirmative action in universities.”

Bollinger said that diversity would continue to remain an important facet of American higher education.

American higher education is successful when it can “bring people together from all over, very different backgrounds, very different experiences, and together that makes a very, very electric mix of ideas and educational benefits,” Bollinger said. “And we have the best higher education system in the world and that's part of it.”

Theodore Shaw, law school professor who served as lead counsel in the coalition defending affirmative action in 2003, said he considered the ruling a victory for supporters of affirmative action and other diversity efforts.

“We were concerned that the Court would overrule Grutter,” Shaw told Spectator, adding that the ruling “left diversity as a compelling state interest intact.”

Shaw said it was important that taking diversity into consideration was still legal and constitutional for institutions of higher education.

“That's a victory and many were concerned that that wouldn't happen,” he said.

Jessica Marinaccio, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, echoed Bollinger and Shaw in a statement:

“Through our holistic admissions process we evaluate a wide variety of factors to assess each student’s ability to take advantage of and contribute to Columbia’s unique educational community. We aim to craft a class that represents diversity in its many forms to ensure a rich discourse in our classrooms and on campus.”

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