Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Supreme Court Declines to Review Affirmative Action Case

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Supreme Court Declines to Review Affirmative Action Case

Article excerpt

Decision leaves education observers wondering when Court will revisit the issue


The U.S. Supreme Court's decision last month to let stand a federal appeals court ruling on the University of Washington law school's now-revised admissions policy left affirmative action advocates applauding, quota opponents grumbling and both sides wondering when the high court will revisit the issue of race-conscious admissions in higher education.

"Until the Supreme Court says otherwise, Bakke lives," said NAACP Legal Defense Fund associate director-counsel Ted Shaw following the decision, referring to the 1978 Supreme Court ruling that allows race to be used in admissions as part of an effort to ensure diversity within the student body of public universities. The High Court "had the opportunity to say, `You got it wrong' (but) didn't act this time," Shaw said.

Specifically, the Supreme Court simply declined to handle this affirmative action debate. Without comment, the justices decided not to review last December's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on a suit brought on behalf of three White applicants to the University of Washington's law school. In their suit, the applicants had contended that the law school's admission policy was unfairly tilted against White applicants.

The Court's decision not to review the case comes at the close of the admissions cycle for most universities. "Schools are in a wait-and-see mode," says Professor Frank Wu of the Howard University School of Law. "In this case, the Court's failure to consider the Washington case actually can be read as a positive. If the Court had wanted to strike down affirmative action clearly and decisively, then it would have taken the case. As a consequence of its not taking the case, the lower court decision stands. And that decision allowed affirmative action."

Wu was among the chorus of affirmative action advocates whose glee at the Supreme Court's action is tempered by the realization that still in the wings is the Court's long awaited ruling on what remains one of the most divisive matters on the nation's social policy agenda: affirmative action. Knowledgeable observers say the decision is merely a warm-up to the ruling on affirmative action that is sure to come about soon. "This case probably looked very messy to them," says Harvard Law School Professor Christopher Edley. …

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