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Supreme Court set to hear affirmative action arguments: A breakdown of the case

Abigail Fisher, who is white, sued the University of Texas after she was rejected for admission. She says racial considerations should not factor into admissions policies. The justices will hear arguments in the closely watched case on Wednesday.


  1. Fisher recently gave her first media interview to The New York Times.
  2. The background

  3. The case's details, including documents, can be found at ScotusBlog. But in an item for The New Yorker, noted court watcher Jeffrey Toobin did a nice job summarizing it: 
  4. "The facts of the new case are straightforward. Abigail Fisher, a white high-school student in Sugar Land, Texas, was rejected for admission to the University of Texas-Austin. The state requires all students in the top ten per cent of their high-school classes to be admitted to state universities, but students who fall just short of that threshold, like Fisher, are admitted according to a formula; race is one factor in the equation. Fisher’s lawsuit is based on a claim that any consideration of race by a university in admissions violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
  5. The stakes

  6. As Reuters reports, the case could have an impact far beyond Texas.
  7. "A broad ruling by the court could wipe out affirmative action programs in the 43 state school systems that still allow racial preferences, as well as those at thousands of private colleges and universities. The court could also rule narrowly and disallow only the Texas program, or it could approve the Texas approach."
  8. How will the vote go?

  9. As always, guessing how the justices will vote has been a popular sport for court observers. The Reuters account neatly lays out the internal politics of the vote.
  10. "One likely supporter of affirmative action, Justice Elena Kagan, has recused herself. She gave no reason, but it is likely she decided to step aside because she worked on the case in her previous job as U.S. Solicitor General.

    That leaves eight justices to hear the case. Four conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, are expected to reject the University of Texas program. The fifth conservative, Anthony Kennedy, is often thought of as a swing vote. He has voted with the conservative wing on this issue in the past but has also acknowledged a need for racial diversity on campuses. A 4-4 tie would affirm the lower court, which rejected Fisher's challenge."


  11. Anthony Kennedy, here in an AP file photo, could be the key vote.
  12. The two sides

  13. Bloomberg BusinessWeek laid out one side of the debate, with a piece headlined "In Defense of Affirmative Action."
  14. The Weekly Standard, meanwhile, weighed in with a piece with a headline saying ending racial preferences in university admissions is "supremely overdue." 
  15. Twitter reaction

  16. The New York Times story prompted a wave of Twitter reaction in a case that had slipped below the radar, despite its possible impact. Fisher took the brunt of the blows from Twitter users.