“Affirmative Action”: Remedial Use of Racial Classifications

Of critical importance in equal protection litigation is the degree to which government is permitted to take race or another suspect classification into account when formulating and implementing a remedy to overcome the effects of past discrimination. Often the issue is framed in terms of “reverse discrimination,” in that the governmental action deliberately favors members of one class and consequently may adversely affect nonmembers of that class.1795 Although the Court had previously accepted the use of suspect criteria such as race to formulate remedies for specific instances of past discrimination1796 and had allowed preferences for members of certain non-suspect classes that had been the object of societal discrimination,1797 it was not until the late 1970s that the Court gave plenary review to programs that expressly used race as the primary consideration for awarding a public benefit.1798

In United Jewish Organizations v. Carey,1799 New York State had drawn a plan that consciously used racial criteria to create districts with nonwhite populations in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act and to obtain the United States Attorney General’s approval for a redistricting law. These districts were drawn large enough to permit the election of nonwhite candidates in spite of the lower voting turnout of nonwhites. In the process a Hasidic Jewish community previously located entirely within one senate and one assembly district was divided between two senate and two assembly districts, and members of that community sued, alleging that the value of their votes had been diluted solely for the purpose of achieving a racial quota. The Supreme Court approved the districting, although the fragmented majority of seven concurred in no majority opinion.1800

Justice White, delivering the judgment of the Court, based the result on alternative grounds. First, because the redistricting took place pursuant to the administration of the Voting Rights Act, Justice White argued that compliance with the Act necessarily required states to be race conscious in the drawing of lines so as not to dilute minority voting strength. Justice White noted that this requirement was not dependent upon a showing of past discrimination and that the states retained discretion to determine just what strength minority voters needed in electoral districts in order to assure their proportional representation. Moreover, the creation of the certain number of districts in which minorities were in the majority was reasonable under the circumstances.1801

Second, Justice White wrote that, irrespective of what the Voting Rights Act may have required, what the state had done did not violate either the Fourteenth or the Fifteenth Amendment. This was so because the plan, even though it used race in a purposeful manner, represented no racial slur or stigma with respect to whites or any other race; the plan did not operate to minimize or unfairly cancel out white voting strength, because as a class whites would be represented in the legislature in accordance with their proportion of the population in the jurisdiction.1802

It was anticipated that Regents of the University of California v. Bakke1803 would shed further light on the constitutionality of affirmative action. Instead, the Court again fragmented. In Bakke, the Davis campus medical school admitted 100 students each year. Of these slots, the school set aside 16 of those seats for disadvantaged minority students, who were qualified but not necessarily as qualified as those winning admission to the other 84 places. Twice denied admission, Bakke sued, arguing that had the 16 positions not been set aside he could have been admitted. The state court ordered him admitted and ordered the school not to consider race in admissions. By two 5-to-4 votes, the Supreme Court affirmed the order admitting Bakke but set aside the order forbidding the consideration of race in admissions.1804

Four Justices, in an opinion by Justice Brennan, argued that racial classifications designed to further remedial purposes were not foreclosed by the Constitution under appropriate circumstances. Even ostensibly benign racial classifications, however, could be misused and produce stigmatizing effects; therefore, they must be searchingly scrutinized by courts to ferret out these instances. But benign racial preferences, unlike invidious discriminations, need not be subjected to strict scrutiny; instead, an intermediate scrutiny would do. As applied, then, this review would enable the Court to strike down a remedial racial classification that stigmatized a group, that singled out those least well represented in the political process to bear the brunt of the program, or that was not justified by an important and articulated purpose.1805

Justice Powell, however, argued that all racial classifications are suspect and require strict scrutiny. Because none of the justifications asserted by the college met this high standard of review, he would have invalidated the program. But he did perceive justifications for a less rigid consideration of race as one factor among many in an admissions program; diversity of student body was an important and protected interest of an academy and would justify an admissions set of standards that made affirmative use of race. Ameliorating the effects of past discrimination would justify the remedial use of race, the Justice thought, when the entity itself had been found by appropriate authority to have discriminated, but the college could not inflict harm upon other groups in order to remedy past societal discrimination.1806 Justice Powell thus agreed that Bakke should be admitted, but he joined the four justices who sought to allow the college to consider race to some degree in its admissions.1807

The Court then began a circuitous route toward disfavoring affirmative action, at least when it occurs outside the education context. At first, the Court seemed inclined to extend the result in Bakke. In Fullilove v. Klutznick,1808 the Court, still lacking a majority opinion, upheld a federal statute requiring that at least ten percent of public works funds be set aside for minority business enterprises. A series of opinions by six Justices all recognized that alleviation and remediation of past societal discrimination was a legitimate goal and that race was a permissible classification to use in remedying the present effects of past discrimination. Chief Judge Burger issued the judgment, which emphasized Congress’s preeminent role under the Commerce Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment to determine the existence of past discrimination and its continuing effects and to implement remedies that were race conscious in order to cure those effects. The principal concurring opinion by Justice Marshall applied the Brennan analysis in Bakke, using middle-tier scrutiny to hold that the race conscious set-aside was “substantially related to the achievement of the important and congressionally articulated goal of remedying the present effects of past discrimination.”1809

Taken together, the opinions established that, although Congress had the power to make the findings that will establish the necessity to use racial classifications in an affirmative way, these findings need not be extensive nor express and may be collected in many ways.1810 Moreover, although the opinions emphasized the limited duration and magnitude of the set-aside program, they appeared to attach no constitutional significance to these limitations, thus leaving open the way for programs of a scope sufficient to remedy all the identified effects of past discrimination.1811 But the most important part of these opinions rested in the clear sustaining of race classifications as permissible in remedies and in the approving of some forms of racial quotas. The Court rejected arguments that minority beneficiaries of such programs are stigmatized, that burdens are placed on innocent third parties, and that the program is overinclusive, so as to benefit some minority members who had suffered no discrimination.1812

Despite these developments, the Court remained divided in its response to constitutional challenges to affirmative action plans.1813 As a general matter, authority to apply racial classifications was found to be at its greatest when Congress was acting pursuant to section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment or other of its remedial powers, or when a court is acting to remedy proven discrimination. But a countervailing consideration was the impact of such discrimination on disadvantaged non-minorities. Two cases illustrate the latter point. In Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education,1814 the Court invalidated a provision of a collective bargaining agreement giving minority teachers a preferential protection from layoffs. In United States v. Paradise,1815 the Court upheld as a remedy for past discrimination a court-ordered racial quota in promotions. Justice White, concurring in Wygant, emphasized the harsh, direct effect of layoffs on affected non-minority employees.1816 By contrast, a plurality of Justices in Paradise viewed the remedy in that case as affecting non-minorities less harshly than did the layoffs in Wygant, because the promotion quota would merely delay promotions of those affected, rather than cause the loss of their jobs.1817

A clear distinction was then drawn between federal and state power to apply racial classifications. In City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co.,1818 the Court invalidated a minority set-aside requirement that holders of construction contracts with the city subcontract at least 30% of the dollar amount to minority business enterprises. Applying strict scrutiny, the Court found Richmond’s program to be deficient because it was not tied to evidence of past discrimination in the city’s construction industry. By contrast, the Court in Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC1819 applied a more lenient standard of review in upholding two racial preference policies used by the FCC in the award of radio and television broadcast licenses. The FCC policies, the Court explained, are “benign, race-conscious measures” that are “substantially related” to the achievement of an “important” governmental objective of broadcast diversity.1820

In Croson, the Court ruled that the city had failed to establish a “compelling” interest in the racial quota system because it failed to identify past discrimination in its construction industry. Mere recitation of a “benign” or remedial purpose will not suffice, the Court concluded, nor will reliance on the disparity between the number of contracts awarded to minority firms and the minority population of the city. “[W]here special qualifications are necessary, the relevant statistical pool for purposes of demonstrating exclusion must be the number of minorities qualified to undertake the particular task.”1821 The overinclusive definition of minorities, including U.S. citizens who are “Blacks, Spanish-speaking, Orientals, Indians, Eskimos, or Aleuts,” also “impugn[ed] the city’s claim of remedial motivation,” there having been “no evidence” of any past discrimination against non-blacks in the Richmond construction industry.1822 It followed that Richmond’s set-aside program also was not “narrowly tailored” to remedy the effects of past discrimination in the city: an individualized waiver procedure made the quota approach unnecessary, and a minority entrepreneur “from anywhere in the country” could obtain an absolute racial preference.1823

At issue in Metro Broadcasting were two minority preference policies of the FCC, one recognizing an “enhancement” for minority ownership and participation in management when the FCC considers competing license applications, and the other authorizing a “distress sale” transfer of a broadcast license to a minority enterprise. These racial preferences—unlike the set-asides at issue in Fullilove— originated as administrative policies rather than statutory mandates. Because Congress later endorsed these policies, however, the Court was able to conclude that they bore “the imprimatur of longstanding congressional support and direction.”1824

Metro Broadcasting was noteworthy for several other reasons as well. The Court rejected the dissent’s argument—seemingly accepted by a Croson majority—that Congress’s more extensive authority to adopt racial classifications must trace to section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, and instead ruled that Congress also may rely on race-conscious measures in exercise of its commerce and spending powers.1825 This meant that the governmental interest furthered by a race-conscious policy need not be remedial, but could be a less focused interest such as broadcast diversity. Secondly, as noted above, the Court eschewed strict scrutiny analysis: the governmental interest need only be “important” rather than “compelling,” and the means adopted need only be “substantially related” rather than “narrowly tailored” to furthering the interest.

The distinction between federal and state power to apply racial classifications, however, proved ephemeral. The Court ruled in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena1826 that racial classifications imposed by federal law must be analyzed by the same strict scrutiny standard that is applied to evaluate state and local classifications based on race. The Court overruled Metro Broadcasting and, to the extent that it applied a review standard less stringent than strict scrutiny, Fullilove v. Klutznick. Strict scrutiny is to be applied regardless of the race of those burdened or benefitted by the particular classification; there is no intermediate standard applicable to “benign” racial classifications. The underlying principle, the Court explained, is that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect persons, not groups. It follows, therefore, that classifications based on the group characteristic of race “should be subjected to detailed judicial inquiry to ensure that the personal right to equal protection . . . has not been infringed.”1827

By applying strict scrutiny, the Court was in essence affirming Justice Powell’s individual opinion in Bakke, which posited a strict scrutiny analysis of affirmative action. There remained the question, however, whether Justice Powell’s suggestion that creating a diverse student body in an educational setting was a compelling governmental interest that would survive strict scrutiny analysis. It engendered some surprise, then, that the Court essentially reaffirmed Justice Powell’s line of reasoning in the cases of Grutter v. Bollinger,1828 and Gratz v. Bollinger.1829

In Grutter, the Court considered the admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School, which requires admissions officials to evaluate each applicant based on all the information available in their file (e.g., grade point average, Law School Admissions Test score, personal statement, recommendations) and on “soft” variables (e.g., strength of recommendations, quality of undergraduate institution, difficulty of undergraduate courses). The policy also considered “racial and ethnic diversity with special reference to the inclusion of students from groups which have been historically discriminated against, like African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans . . . .” Although, the policy did not limit the seeking of diversity to “ethnic and racial” classifications, it did seek a “critical mass” of minorities so that those students would not feel isolated.1830

The Grutter Court found that student diversity provided significant benefits, not just to the students who might have otherwise not been admitted, but also to the student body as a whole. These benefits include “cross-racial understanding,” the breakdown of racial stereotypes, the improvement of classroom discussion, and the preparation of students to enter a diverse workforce. Further, the Court emphasized the role of education in developing national leaders. Thus, the Court found that such efforts were important to “cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry.”1831 As the university did not rely on quotas, but rather relied on “flexible assessments” of a student’s record, the Court found that the university’s policy was narrowly tailored to achieve the substantial governmental interest of achieving a diverse student body.1832

The law school’s admission policy in Grutter, however, can be contrasted with the university’s undergraduate admission policy. In Gratz, the Court evaluated the undergraduate program’s “selection index,” which assigned applicants up to 150 points based on a variety of factors similar to those considered by the law school. Applicants with scores over 100 were generally admitted, while those with scores of less than 100 fell into categories that could result in either admittance, postponement, or rejection. Of particular interest to the Court was that an applicant would be entitled to 20 points based solely upon his or her membership in an underrepresented racial or ethnic minority group. The policy also included the “flagging” of certain applications for special review, and underrepresented minorities were among those whose applications were flagged.1833

The Court in Gratz struck down this admissions policy, relying again on Justice Powell’s decision in Bakke. Although Justice Powell had thought it permissible that “race or ethnic background . . . be deemed a ‘plus’ in a particular applicant’s file,”1834 the system he envisioned involved individualized consideration of all elements of an application to ascertain how the applicant would contribute to the diversity of the student body. According to the majority opinion in Gratz, the undergraduate policy did not provide for such individualized consideration. Instead, by automatically distributing 20 points to every applicant from an “underrepresented minority” group, the policy effectively admitted every qualified minority applicant. Although it acknowledged that the volume of applications could make individualized assessments an “administrative challenge,” the Court found that the policy was not narrowly tailored to achieve respondents’ asserted compelling interest in diversity.1835

The Court subsequently revisited the question of affirmative action in undergraduate education in its 2016 decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, upholding the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT’s) use of “scores” based, in part, on race in filling approximately 25% of the slots in its incoming class that were not required by statute to be awarded to Texas high school students who finished in the top 10% of their graduating class (Top Ten Percent Plan or TTPP).1836 The Court itself suggested that the “sui generis” nature of the UT program,1837 coupled with the “fact that this case has been litigated on a somewhat artificial basis” because the record lacked information about the impact of Texas’s TTPP,1838 may limit the decision’s value for “prospective guidance.”1839 Nonetheless, certain language in the Court’s decision, along with its application of the three “controlling factors” set forth in the Court’s 2013 decision in Fisher,1840 seem likely to have some influence, as they represent the Court’s most recent jurisprudence on whether and when institutions of higher education may take race into consideration in their admission decisions. Specifically, the 2016 Fisher decision began and ended with broad language recognizing constraints on the implementation of affirmative action programs in undergraduate education, including language that highlights the university’s “continuing obligation to satisfy the burden of strict scrutiny in light of changing circumstances”1841 and emphasized that “[t]he Court’s affirmance of the University’s admissions policy today does not necessarily mean the University may rely on that same policy without refinement.”1842 Nonetheless, while citing these constraints, the 2016 Fisher decision held that the challenged UT program did not run afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment. In particular, the Court concluded that the state’s compelling interest in the case was not in enrolling a certain number of minority students, but in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity, noting that the state cannot be faulted for not specifying a particular level of minority enrollment.1843 The Court further concurred with UT’s view that the alleged “critical mass” of minority students achieved under the 10% plan was not dispositive, as the university had found that it was insufficient,1844 and that UT had found other means of promoting student-body diversity were unworkable.1845 In so concluding, the Court held that the university had met its burden in surviving strict scrutiny by providing sworn affidavits from UT officials and internal assessments based on months of studies, retreats, interviews, and reviews of data that amounted, in the view of the Court, to a “reasoned, principled explanation” of the university’s interests and its efforts to achieve those interests in a manner that was no broader than necessary.1846 The Court refused to question the motives of university administrators and did not further scrutinize the underlying evidence relied on by the respondents, which may indicate that there are some limits to the degree in which the Court will evaluate a race-conscious admissions policy once the university has provided sufficient support for its approach.1847

While institutions of higher education were striving to increase racial diversity in their student populations, state and local governments were engaged in a similar effort with respect to elementary and secondary schools. Whether this goal could be constitutionally achieved after Grutter and Gratz, however, remained unclear, especially as the type of individualized admission considerations found in higher education are less likely to have useful analogies in the context of public school assignments. Thus, for instance, in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1,1848 the Court rejected plans in both Seattle, Washington and Jefferson County, Kentucky, that, in order reduce what the Court found to be “de facto” racial imbalance in the schools, used “racial tiebreakers” to determine school assignments.1849 As in Bakke, numerous opinions by a fractured Court led to an uncertain resolution of the issue.

In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, a majority of the Court in Parents Involved in Community Schools agreed that the plans before the Court did not include the kind of individualized considerations that had been at issue in the university admissions process in Grutter, but rather focused primarily on racial considerations.1850 Although a majority of the Court found the plans unconstitutional, only four Justices (including the Chief Justice) concluded that alleviating “de facto” racial imbalance in elementary and secondary schools could never be a compelling governmental interest. Justice Kennedy, while finding that the school plans at issue were unconstitutional because they were not narrowly tailored,1851 suggested in separate concurrence that relieving “racial isolation” could be a compelling governmental interest. The Justice even envisioned the use of plans based on individual racial classifications “as a last resort” if other means failed.1852 As Justice Kennedy’s concurrence appears to represent a narrower basis for the judgment of the Court than does Justice Roberts’ opinion, it appears to represent, for the moment, the controlling opinion for the lower courts.1853


While the emphasis is upon governmental action, private affirmative actions may implicate statutory bars to uses of race. E.g., McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transp. Co., 427 U.S. 273 (1976), held, not in the context of an affirmative action program, that whites were as entitled as any group to protection of federal laws banning racial discrimination in employment. The Court emphasized that it was not passing at all on the permissibility of affirmative action programs. Id. at 280 n.8. In United Steelworkers v. Weber, 443 U.S. 193 (1979), the Court held that title VII did not prevent employers from instituting voluntary, race-conscious affirmative action plans. Accord, Johnson v. Transportation Agency, 480 U.S. 616 (1987). Nor does title VII prohibit a court from approving a consent decree providing broader relief than the court would be permitted to award. Local 93, Int’l Ass’n of Firefighters v. City of Cleveland, 478 U.S. 501 (1986). And, court-ordered relief pursuant to title VII may benefit persons not themselves the victims of discrimination. Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers’ Int’l Ass’n v. EEOC, 478 U.S. 421 (1986). back
E.g., Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1, 22–25 (1971). back
Programs to overcome past societal discriminations against women have been approved, Kahn v. Shevin, 416 U.S. 351 (1974); Schlesinger v. Ballard, 419 U.S. 498 (1975); Califano v. Webster, 430 U.S. 313 (1977), but gender classifications are not as suspect as racial ones. Preferential treatment for American Indians was approved, Morton v. Mancari, 417 U.S. 535 (1974), but on the basis that the classification was political rather than racial. back
The constitutionality of a law school admissions program in which minority applicants were preferred for a number of positions was before the Court in DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312 (1974), but the Court did not reach the merits. back
430 U.S. 144 (1977). Chief Justice Burger dissented, id. at 180, and Justice Marshall did not participate. back
For a detailed discussion of the use of racial considerations in apportionment and districting by the states, see infra Amendment 14: Section 1: Rights Guaranteed: Fundamental Interests: The Political Process: Apportionment and Districting. back
430 U.S. at 155–65. Joining this part of the opinion were Justices Brennan, Blackmun, and Stevens. back
430 U.S. at 165–68. Joining this part of the opinion were Justices Stevens and Rehnquist. In a separate opinion, Justice Brennan noted that preferential race policies were subject to several substantial arguments: (1) they may disguise a policy that perpetuates disadvantageous treatment; (2) they may serve to stimulate society’s latent race consciousness; (3) they may stigmatize recipient groups as much as overtly discriminatory practices against them do; (4) they may be perceived by many as unjust. The presence of the Voting Rights Act and the Attorney General’s supervision made the difference to him in this case. Id. at 168. Justices Stewart and Powell concurred, agreeing with Justice White that there was no showing of a purpose on the legislature’s part to discriminate against white voters and that the effect of the plan was insufficient to invalidate it. Id. at 179. back
438 U.S. 265 (1978). back
Four Justices did not reach the constitutional question. In their view, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars discrimination on the ground of race, color, or national origin by any recipient of federal financial assistance, outlawed the college’s program and made unnecessary any consideration of the Constitution. See 78 Stat. 252, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d to 2000d–7. These Justices would have admitted Bakke and barred the use of race in admissions. 438 U.S. at 408–21 (Justices Stevens, Stewart, and Rehnquist and Chief Justice Burger). The remaining five Justices agreed among themselves that Title VI, on its face and in light of its legislative history, proscribed only what the Equal Protection Clause proscribed. 438 U.S. at 284–87 (Justice Powell), 328–55 (Justices Brennan, White, Marshall, and Blackmun). They thus reached the constitutional issue. back
438 U.S. at 355–79 (Justices Brennan, White, Marshall, and Blackmun). The intermediate standard of review adopted by the four Justices is that formulated for gender cases. “Racial classifications designed to further remedial purposes ‘must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives.’ ” Id. at 359. back
438 U.S. at 287–320. back
See 438 U.S. at 319–20 (Justice Powell). back
448 U.S. 448 (1980). Justice Stewart, joined by Justice Rehnquist, dissented in one opinion, id. at 522, while Justice Stevens dissented in another. Id. at 532. back
448 U.S. at 517. back
Whether federal agencies or state legislatures and state agencies have the same breadth and leeway to make findings and formulate remedies was left unsettled, but that they have some such power seems evident. 448 U.S. at 473–80. The program was an exercise of Congress’s spending power, but the constitutional objections raised had not been previously resolved in that context. The plurality therefore turned to Congress’s regulatory powers, which in this case undergirded the spending power, and found the power to lie in the Commerce Clause with respect to private contractors and in section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment with respect to state agencies. The Marshall plurality appeared to attach no significance in this regard to the fact that Congress was the acting party. back
448 U.S. at 484–85, 489 (Chief Justice Burger), 513–15 (Justice Powell). back
448 U.S. at 484–89 (Chief Justice Burger), 514–515 (Justice Powell), 520–521 (Justice Marshall). back
Guidance on constitutional issues is not necessarily afforded by cases arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Court having asserted that “the statutory prohibition with which the employer must contend was not intended to extend as far as that of the Constitution,” and that “voluntary employer action can play a crucial role in furthering Title VII’s purpose of eliminating the effects of discrimination in the workplace.” Johnson v. Transportation Agency, 480 U.S. 616, 628 n.6, 630 (1987) (upholding a local governmental agency’s voluntary affirmative action plan predicated upon underrepresentation of women rather than upon past discriminatory practices by that agency) (emphasis in original). The constitutionality of the agency’s plan was not challenged. See id. at 620 n.2. back
476 U.S. 267 (1986). back
480 U.S. 149 (1987). back
476 U.S. at 294. A plurality of Justices in Wygant thought that past societal discrimination alone is insufficient to justify racial classifications; they would require some convincing evidence of past discrimination by the governmental unit involved. 476 U.S. at 274–76 (opinion of Justice Powell, joined by Chief Justice Burger and by Justices Rehnquist and O’Connor). back
480 U.S. at 182–83 (opinion of Justice Brennan, joined by Justices Marshall, Blackmun, and Powell). A majority of Justices emphasized that the egregious nature of the past discrimination by the governmental unit justified the ordered relief. 480 U.S. at 153 (opinion of Justice Brennan), id. at 189 (Justice Stevens). back
488 U.S. 469 (1989). Croson was decided by a 6–3 vote. The portions of Justice O’Connor’s opinion adopted as the opinion of the Court were joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and by Justices White, Stevens, and Kennedy. The latter two Justices joined only part of Justice O’Connor’s opinion; each added a separate concurring opinion. Justice Scalia concurred separately; Justices Marshall, Brennan, and Blackmun dissented. back
497 U.S. 547 (1990). This was a 5–4 decision, Justice Brennan’s opinion of the Court being joined by Justices White, Marshall, Blackmun, and Stevens. Justice O’Connor wrote a dissenting opinion joined by the Chief Justice and by Justices Scalia and Kennedy, and Justice Kennedy added a separate dissenting opinion joined by Justice Scalia. back
497 U.S. at 564–65. back
488 U.S. at 501–02. back
488 U.S. at 506. back
488 U.S. at 508. back
497 U.S. at 600. Justice O’Connor’s dissenting opinion contended that the case “does not present ‘a considered decision of the Congress and the President.’ ” Id. at 607 (quoting Fullilove, 448 U.S. at 473). back
497 U.S. at 563 & n.11. For the dissenting views of Justice O’Connor see id. at 606–07. See also Croson, 488 U.S. at 504 (opinion of Court). back
515 U.S. 200 (1995). This was a 5–4 decision. Justice O’Connor’s opinion for Court was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, and by Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and—to the extent not inconsistent with his own concurring opinion—Scalia. Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer dissented. back
515 U.S. at 227 (emphasis original). back
539 U.S. 306 (2003). back
539 U.S. 244 (2003). back
539 U.S. at 316. back
539 U.S. at 335. back
Grutter, 539 U.S. at 315. While an educational institution will receive deference in its judgment as to whether diversity is essential to its educational mission, the courts must closely scrutinize the means by which this goal is achieved. Thus, the institution will receive no deference regarding the question of the necessity of the means chosen and will bear the burden of demonstrating that “each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that an applicant’s race or ethnicity is the defining feature of his or her application.” Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin (Fisher I), 570 U.S. ___, No. 11–345, slip op. at 10 (2013) (citation omitted). In its 2013 decision in Fisher, the Court did not rule on the substance of the challenged affirmative action program and instead remanded the case so that the reviewing appellate court could apply the correct standard of review. However, the Court issued a subsequent decision in Fisher addressing the Texas program directly. See Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin (Fisher II), 579 U.S. ___, No. 14–981, slip op. (2016). back
539 U.S. at 272–73. back
438 U.S. at 317. back
438 U.S. at 284–85. back
Fisher II, slip. op. at 3–4. back
Id. at 8. back
Id. at 10. back
Id. back
Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. at Austin (Fisher I), 570 U.S. ___, No. 11–345, slip op. at 10 (2013). The first of these principles is that strict scrutiny requires the university to demonstrate with clarity that its “purpose or interest is both constitutionally permissible and substantial, and that its use of the classification is necessary . . . to the accomplishment of its purpose.” Id. at 7. The second principle is that the decision to pursue the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity is, in substantial measure, an “academic judgment” to which “some, but not complete, judicial deference is proper.” Id. at 9. The third is that no deference is owed in determining whether the use of race is narrowly tailored; rather, the university bears burden of proving a non-racial approach would not promote its interests “about as well” and “at tolerable administrative expense.” Id. at 11. back
Fisher II, slip op. at 10. back
Id. back
Id. at 11–13. On the other hand, the Court emphasized that the university cannot claim educational benefits in “diversity writ large.” Id. at 12. “A university’s goals cannot be elusory or amorphous—they must be sufficiently measurable to permit judicial scrutiny of the policies adopted to reach them.” Id. The Court also noted that the asserted goals of UT’s affirmative action program “mirror” those approved in earlier cases (e.g., ending stereotypes and promoting cross-racial understanding). Id. at 13. back
Id. at 13–15. The Court further emphasized that the fact that race allegedly plays a minor role in UT admissions, given that approximately 75% of the incoming class is admitted under the 10% plan, shows that the challenged use of race in determining the composition of the rest of the incoming class is narrowly tailored, not that it is unconstitutional. Id. at 15. back
Id. at 15–19. back
Id. at 13 (“Petitioner’s contention that the University’s goal was insufficiently concrete is rebutted by the record”). back
Id. at 13–14. back
551 U.S. 701 (2007). Another case involving racial diversity in public schools, Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, was argued separately before the Court on the same day, but the two cases were subsequently consolidated and both were addressed in the cited opinion. back
In Seattle, students could choose among 10 high schools in the school district, but, if an oversubscribed school was not within 10 percentage points of the district’s overall white/nonwhite racial balance, the district would assign students whose race would serve to bring the school closer to the desired racial balance. 127 S. Ct. at 2747. In Jefferson County, assignments and transfers were limited when such action would cause a school’s black enrollment to fall below 15 percent or exceed 50 percent. Id. at 2749. back
127 S. Ct. at 2753–54. The Court also noted that, in Grutter, the Court had relied upon “considerations unique to institutions of higher education.” Id. at 2574 (finding that, as stated in Grutter, 539 U.S. at 329, because of the “expansive freedoms of speech and thought associated with the university environment, universities occupy a special niche in our constitutional tradition”). back
In his analysis of whether the plans were narrowly tailored to the governmental interest in question, Justice Kennedy focused on a lack of clarity in the administration and application of Kentucky’s plan and the use of the “crude racial categories” of “white” and “non-white” (which failed to distinguish among racial minorities) in the Seattle plan. 127 S. Ct. at 2790–91. back
127 S. Ct. at 2760–61. Some other means suggested by Justice Kennedy (which by implication could be constitutionally used to address racial imbalance in schools) included strategic site selection for new schools, the redrawing of attendance zones, the allocation of resources for special programs, the targeted recruiting of students and faculty, and the tracking of enrollments, performance, and other statistics by race. back
Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188, 193 (1977) (“When a fragmented Court decides a case and no single rationale enjoys the assent of five Justices, ‘the holding of the Court may be viewed as that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgment on the narrowest grounds . . . .’ ”). back