Supreme Court Tees Up New Battle Over Affirmative Action

The Court has been cool to affirmative action programs in the past.

On Friday, the Supreme Court is meeting in closed conference to decide whether it will take up cases on the issues of same sex-marriage and marriage recognition from several states. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images) (National Journal)

The Supreme Court will take another look at the use of affirmative-action programs in college admissions—a practice it has opposed in the past.

Shortly before the justices handed down the last decisions of the current term on Friday, they set up a major controversy for their next session, agreeing to hear a new challenge to the use of race in college admissions.

The lawsuit challenges the admissions process at the University of Texas, which uses race among other factors when making admitting students. The case, Fisher v. University of Texas, is a retread of the Court's last big affirmative-action decision, handed down in 2013.

In that iteration, the Court said universities must meet a high legal bar when justifying the use of race in their admissions decisions. It said the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had not applied that standard when it upheld UT's policy, and ordered a new hearing in the lower court. But after holding that hearing, the lower court once again sided with the university—and that result was appealed back to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has generally been hostile to affirmative action and to racial preferences in general, under Chief Justice John Roberts. The 2012 decision in Fisher was one example; it has also upheld state laws than ban affirmative action, and in an earlier case, Roberts wrote, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Oral arguments in the latest challenge have not yet been scheduled but will fall some time after the Court begins its next term, in October.