The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to send a Texas affirmative action case back to a lower federal court for further scrutiny received mixed reactions from local observers.
The court in a 7-1 decision said that the University of Texas at Austin’s race-based admission policy could withstand constitutional review only if “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.”
The justices, in effect, “kicked the can down the road” by sending it back to the lower court, said David Lanoue, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at Columbus State University.
“They upheld their previous judgement that advancing diversity is a legitimate consideration in college admissions and that that consideration of race and ethnicity can be used for that purpose,” Lanoue said. “But there was also a sense that they were tightening it up a bit by sending the case back to the Fifth Circuit.”
Lanoue said the Supreme Court, which many people consider conservative, also sent a message by voting 7-1.
“What’s very notable about this, I think, is that it very much looks like a compromise decision,” he said. “You had both liberal and conservative justices on the same side.
“Justices, obviously, have their own personal ideologies that influence them. But they also try to protect the court as an institution,” he said. “They want to know that the Constitution will mean the same thing five years from now that it means right now.”
Nate Sanderson, president of the Columbus Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said the court simply upheld a 2003 ruling, which established that race should not be the predominant factor in college admissions. But the bigger question, he said, is whether local and national leaders are doing enough to address demographic shifts that could significantly change the whole affirmative action debate.
“Columbus is almost a 50-50 city,” he said. “Even though we do have a plurality of minorities in Columbus, minorities still are at a disadvantage in many areas. So it’s incumbent upon government not to just look at numbers, but to actually look at the data and see what the data is saying and what can we do as a community to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to enjoy the American dream, regardless of ethnicity and race.”