Supreme Court rulings: Affirmative action case sent back to a lower court

The Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling on affirmative action Monday, sending Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin back to a lower court for tougher scrutiny.

The decision was one of three highly anticipated issues, the others being the Voting Rights Act and same-sex marriage.

The court's ruling said, "Because the Fifth Circuit did not hold the University to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated in Grutter and Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, its decision affirming the District Court's grant of summary judgment to the University was incorrect."

The 7-1 majority opinion, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg the sole dissenter and Justice Elena Kagan recused, "seems to reaffirm that diversity is a compelling interest if only because that rule was not challenged by the plaintiffs in the case," lawyer Amy Howe said on the SCOTUS live blog

The entire ruling is available here.

Bloomberg Businessweek called the ruling a "limited victory" for those who oppose racial preferences in university admissions. 

"Initially, the word 'compromise' seems most appropriate, and 'punt' gets there in second place," The SCOTUS blog explained. "The Court is clearly not deciding whether UT's program is constitutional or not; it's clearly not overruling Grutter; but it's clearly also sending a signal that it's serious about the 'narrow tailoring' rule."

The landmark ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003 saw the Supreme Court uphold affirmative action in the admissions policy of the University of Michigan Law School by a vote of 5-4. At the time, the court ruled that the university had a compelling interest in promoting diversity.

The Supreme Court handed down five decisions on Monday, though the avidly watched decisions on the Voting Rights Act and gay marriage were still pending. 

The court actually has an option to rule not to decide in any of these cases, known as "standing grounds." 

As Buzzfeed explained:

"Standing is a part of the court’s jurisdiction, a determination by the court that the party bringing a lawsuit or an appeal has a real interest in the litigation, in terms of a substantial harm or burden that they could face depending on the lawsuit’s outcome."

"Basically: 'Do they have a right to be there?'" Buzzfeed added. "Standing doctrine is a result of the Constitution’s requirement that the federal courts only hear an actual 'case' or '"controversy.'"

Amy Howe predicted that the Proposition 8 case, which struck down gay marriage rights in California, will be dismissed on standing grounds.

"There's a core group that does not want to decide," she wrote on the blog. 

There is also a case on the Defense of Marriage Act that is being decided.

The court is expected to announce more decisions at 10 a.m. Tuesday, and is expected to add at least one other day after that — Wednesday or Thursday, most likely. DOMA and Prop 8 are likely to go last, due to their thorniness. 

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