WASHINGTON — Affirmative action in university admissions survives for now, under a Supreme Court ruling in a closely watched case that involves the University of Texas.
In a 7-1 decision Monday, justices directed a lower appellate court to examine more closely the University of Texas' admissions policies that may take race into account. Though the university now faces tougher scrutiny, the decision leaves intact an earlier Supreme Court ruling that concluded racial diversity in college admissions can be justified as a compelling state interest.
"A university must make a showing that its plan is narrowly tailored to achieve . the benefits of a student body diversity that encompasses a broad array of qualifications and characteristics of which racial or ethnic origin is but a single though important element," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.
The decision sends the University of Texas affirmative action challenge back to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. There, Kennedy said, judges must determine whether the university has demonstrated that its admissions program is "narrowly tailored" to obtain the educational benefits of diversity.
"Whether this record, and not simple assurances of good intention, is sufficient is a question for the court of appeals," Kennedy wrote, adding pointedly that "the reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity."
Also on Monday, the court announced it will decide next term whether President Obama exceeded his constitutional authority by making appointments while the Senate was on break last year.
The case at hand involves Obama's appointment of three members of the National Labor Relations Board, but the broader issue concerns the power that presidents throughout history have used to fill their administrations in the face of Senate opposition and inaction.