The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit, which had earlier ruled in the University’s favor, with instructions to give “strict scrutiny” to the admissions policy–that is, to investigate whether the (legitimate) educational goal of racial diversity could not be achieved by a race-neutral admissions process. The vote was 7-1. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the only one to uphold the Fifth Circuit’s decision. Justices Scalia and Thomas said that they would have gone further and voted to overturn the precedent on which U.T. relied, a case called Grutter v. Bollinger, decided in 2003. (Justice Kagan recused herself.)
Grutter concerned the admissions policy at the University of Michigan Law School. In an opinion by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Court affirmed Justice Lewis Powell’s opinion for the Court in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, in 1978.
Powell said that setting racial quotas (as done by the U.C. Davis School of Medicine, to which Allan Bakke, who was white, had applied) is unconstitutional, but that race may be counted as a “plus” factor in college and university admissions. Powell cited the “Harvard plan,” a statement of holistic application evaluation adopted by the admissions office at Harvard University, where I teach, as a constitutional model.