Justices to rehash college affirmative action case

David G. Savage
Chicago Tribune

Washington — The Supreme Court agreed Monday to hear a University of Texas case for a second time to decide a constitutional challenge to affirmative action policies at colleges and universities.

At issue is whether the university's policy of seeking to enroll more black and Latino students discriminated against a white student who was turned down for admission.

Two years ago, the justices debated the Texas case for most of their term, but failed to issue a clear ruling. Instead, they sent the case back to a lower court to reconsider the university's policy, but it was upheld again.

The court announced Monday it will hear the white student's appeal in Fisher vs. University of Texas.

The case, to be heard in the fall, could pose a threat to the college and university policies across the nation that include admission preferences for qualified minority students.

The case began in 2008 when Abigail Fisher, who is white, was denied admission to the University of Texas’s flagship Austin campus because she did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her high school class — the criterion for 75 percent of the school’s admissions. The university also passed her over for a position among the remaining 25 percent, which is reserved for special scholarships and people who meet a formula for personal achievement that includes race as a factor.

Edward Blum, who helped engineer Fisher’s lawsuit, said he is encouraged by the court’s second look at the case. “The outcome of this case may bring our nation closer to the day when a student’s race and ethnicity is not a factor that a school may consider during the admissions process,” Blum said.

University of Texas president Greg Fenves defended the school’s admissions policy as narrowly-tailored and constitutional.

Justice Elena Kagan said she will sit out the case, leaving at least a possibility the justices could split 4-4 and fail to issue a ruling.

■In other action, a deeply divided court upheld the use of a controversial drug in lethal-injection executions Monday.

On their last day together until the fall, the justices voted 5-4 in a case from Oklahoma that the sedative midazolam can be used in executions without violating the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Redistricting upheld

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the power of independent commissions used by 13 states to draw congressional districts, in a ruling that could spur efforts in other states to reduce partisan influence in the creation of electoral districts.

The justices voted 5-4 to reject a constitutional challenge from Arizona’s Republican lawmakers to the commission that the state’s voters created in 2000. Among the other states affected is California, which uses an independent commission to draw electoral boundaries for its largest-in-the-nation congressional delegation.