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Supreme Court will reconsider Texas affirmative action case

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will revisit a case regarding the contentious issue of affirmative action in school admissions.

The court first heard the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) in 2013, but it effectively punted the issue that year, sending the case back to the lower courts. Now that it is hearing the case again, the court may limit affirmative action policies nationwide, or simply at UT Austin.

The case was brought to the court by Abigail Fisher, a white woman who applied to UT Austin as a high school senior in 2008. She filed suit against the school after she was rejected, arguing the university's consideration of race didn't meet standards previously set by the Supreme Court.

While the University of Texas defended its consideration of race, most students are accepted into UT Austin through the "Top 10 percent" law -- a program that doesn't consider race. The "Top 10" program grants automatic admission to the top students in every Texas high school. Fisher did not qualify for the program. In 2008, just 216 accepted students accepted outside of the "Top 10" program were black or Hispanic.

In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court used the wrong standards to evaluate the Texas college's admissions policies. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority that the Fifth Circuit should not have given UT Austin as much deference on the matter of whether its limited approach to racial considerations met the standard set by the Supreme Court in 2003. That year, in Grutter v. Bollinger, the court rejected the use of racial quotas but said that schools could consider race as part of a "holistic" review of a student's application.

The next year, a federal appeals court panel once again upheld the UT Austin policy, so Fisher again appealed to the Supreme Court.

While the Supreme Court avoided ruling on the actual issue of affirmative action in 2013, some justices tipped their hand in the case. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent that she would affirm the Fifth Circuit's ruling that upheld the Texas program. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas suggested they would overrule Grutter v. Bollinger all together.

Justice Elena Kagan recused herself the first time the case was heard because she had participated in the case as solicitor general while it was before the court of appeals. She will recuse herself once again. With just three of the four liberal justices on the case, it seems likely the court will rule in favor of some limits on affirmative action or more narrowly on the UT Austin policy.

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