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Supreme Court Sends Affirmative Action Case Back to Lower Court

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The Supreme Court has sent a Texas case on race-based college admissions back to a lower court for another look. The Supreme Court has sent a Texas case on race-based college admissions back to a lower court for another look.

Associated Press

The Supreme Court has sent a Texas case on race-based college admissions back to a lower court for another look.

The court's 7-1 decision Monday leaves unsettled many of the basic questions about the continued use of race as a factor in college admissions.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said a federal appeals court needs to subject the University of Texas admission plan to the highest level of judicial scrutiny.

The compromise ruling throws out the decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Texas admission plan.

Kennedy said the appeals court did not test the Texas plan under the most exacting level of judicial review.

He said such a test is required by the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Grutter v. Michigan upholding affirmative action in higher education.

"As the Court said in Grutter, it remains at all times the university's obligation to demonstrate, and the judiciary's obligation to determine, that admissions processes 'ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that makes an applicant's race or ethnicity the defining feature of his or her application,'" Kennedy said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissenter. "In my view, the courts below adhered to this court's pathmarking decisions and there is no need for a second look," Ginsburg said in a dissent she read aloud.

Abigail Fisher, a white Texan, sued the university after she was denied a spot in 2008. She has since received her undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University.

The challenge to the Texas plan gained traction in part because the makeup of the court has changed since the last time the justices ruled on affirmative action in higher education in 2003. Then, Justice Sandra O'Connor wrote the majority opinion that held that colleges and universities can use race in their quest for diverse student bodies.

O'Connor retired in 2006, and her replacement, Justice Samuel Alito, has shown himself to be more skeptical of considerations of race in education.

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