Abigail Fisher

The front of the Supreme Court building: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ (Click to enlarge.)

Justice O’Connor, Justice Stevens, Ted Olson, David Boies, Jeffrey Toobin.

All of them were at the Supreme Court today, eager to hear what the Court had to say. New gay-marriage crusading BFFs Olson and Boies sat together. Also in attendance were lots of other fancy folks — like Solicitor General Don Verrilli and Nina Totenberg — who are there more often.

There’s nothing like late June at One First Street.

At the start of the day, 11 cases remained to be decided, four of them blockbusters. The issues on deck: the Defense of Marriage Act, Prop 8, the Voting Rights Act, and the University of Texas’s use of a form of affirmative action. Today, one of the big cases was resolved; with five others coming out, there are only six remaining.

Today, the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, addressed the University of Texas’s use of affirmative action. As the Chief Justice announced that Justice Kennedy had the opinion and would start reading it, a rush swept through the courtroom. People leaned forward. Papers rustled….

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Today, the Supreme Court surprisingly ruled 7-1 to vacate the Fifth Circuit in Fisher v. Texas. The opinion was a great big dodge. Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said that the lower court failed to apply “strict scrutiny” to the University of Texas’s admissions policies. Cutting through the legalese, that means the Supreme Court actually upheld the case of Grutter v. Bollinger, which is the controlling case allowing affirmative action in college admissions. While conservative justices indicated that they would have overturned Grutter had they been asked, the majority found that they had not been asked.

If that all sounds like a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo to you that avoids the heart of the issue, you are not a lawyer. You are right, but you aren’t a lawyer.

This is no “victory” for affirmative action. There are still a majority of Supreme Court justices that want, almost desperately, to end racial preferences in college admissions. What the Court did today was threaten colleges and universities that want to use racial preferences to come up with really good justifications for their affirmative action policies. Schools that aren’t really committed to diversity, or that go about achieving diversity in a stupid way, will surely have their programs ruled unconstitutional in the future.

This is, I think, the end of affirmative action as a tool for “racial equality.” But affirmative action as a tool to promote “racial diversity” is alive and well.

Which, all things considered, is just fine by me. I think the Court signaled that it is just no longer buying the old reasons for affirmative action. While the rabid conservatives don’t seem to be wiling to consider any, it looks like moderates like Kennedy may listen to new justifications for using race as a factor in admissions, but you are going to have to convince him….

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Finally. The Supreme Court has issued its long-awaited ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas, the closely watched affirmative action case.

And the result might surprise you. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the Court, which should shock no one. But here’s a surprise: the vote breakdown was 7-1 (with Justice Kagan recused).

How did Justice Kennedy garner seven votes for a ruling on one of the most controversial issues of our time?

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Justice Kennedy announced the majority opinion in a long anticipated case today. It was met with a blistering dissent by Justice Scalia.

Unfortunately for most Court watchers, it was not the opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas, the latest in the Court’s attempts to resolve whether affirmative action in higher education is constitutional. Some observers expressed annoyance.

Instead, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Maryland v. King, which Justice Alito previously identified as potentially the most important law enforcement decision in decades. The Court held that the police can take your DNA any time you’ve been arrested for a “serious” crime.

But the real fun was in the dissent….

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A needed essential for Justice Breyer?

Ed. note: Apologies for the technical difficulties that have prevented us from posting until now. Thanks for your patience!

* Attention prospective law school applicants: affirmative action, at least as we currently know it, may not be long for this world. A decision in the Fisher v. University of Texas case is expected as early as this week. Stay tuned. [Reuters]

* Justice Stephen Breyer had to get shoulder replacement surgery after having yet another bike accident (his third, actually). Please — somebody, anybody — get this man some training wheels. Justice is at stake! [New York Times]

* “We’re not going to take it, goodbye.” That’s what retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wishes the high court would have said when it came to the controversial Bush v. Gore case. [Chicago Tribune]

* Thanks to the sequester, the Boston bombings case may turn into a “David and Goliath” situation. Sorry, Dzhokhar, but your defense team may be subject to 15 days of furlough. [National Law Journal]

* George Gallantz, the “founding father” of Proskauer’s sports law practice, RIP. [New York Law Journal]

* Leo Branton Jr., the defense attorney at the helm of the Angela Davis trial, RIP. [New York Times]

Is there anything more American than an argument at the Supreme Court about affirmative action?

It combines so many things unique to our country: an obsession with elite institutions (including both the Supreme Court and the University of Texas, one of our best public schools); passionate arguments about our nation’s long and complicated relationship with race; the relentless striving for success and attainment familiar to so many of us who want to be a named plaintiff in a Supreme Court case (or get into college, depending); and, of course, protests outside a government building.

My fellow lawyers, Alexis de Tocqueville was right — “[s]carcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.” Surely this form of American exceptionalism should be the most celebrated by the noble readers of Above the Law.

If there is any advantage to the way some in our nation attempt to affect the presence of minorities in elite colleges — through litigation rather than, say, appropriations — it’s that it leads to an awesome spectacle at One First Street NE.

And to that spectacle we now turn….

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Sarah Jones

* “I don’t think that we even need to have a race box on the application.” Abigail Fisher is getting even more time in the spotlight thanks to this media interview, which is sure to be the first of many. [New York Times]

* “[T]hey didn’t do anything wrong civilly — and they certainly didn’t do anything wrong criminally.” Tell that to the prosecutors who are looking into the circumstances of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s epic fail. [Wall Street Journal]

* Lateral hiring in midsize/regional firms seems to be up for those with “real-world experience,” but the starting salaries aren’t anything to write home about — they’re still on the “low” side. [Connecticut Law Tribune]

* Jerry Sandusky’s sentencing hearing is today, and in addition to the tape he already released, he’s planning to read a statement before he receives what’s likely to be a life sentence. WE ARE… kind of tired of hearing about his supposed innocence. [CNN]

* “There are fewer interviews and fewer schools interviewing.” This week, would-be law profs who attend the AALS “meat market” will get a taste of what recent graduates have been experiencing. [National Law Journal]

* Sarah Jones, aka “The Dirty Bengals Cheerleader,” reached a plea agreement in her sexual misconduct case. She won’t get jail time, but she wants to go to law school. Same difference, amirite? [Washington Post]

* Alicia Guastaferro, the pageant princess-cum-alleged prostitute, will plead not guilty later this week. If Wife Swap had a “Where Are They Now” edition, this girl would assure good ratings. [Democrat and Chronicle]

Right now is a great time to be a Supreme Court aficionado. There’s a big new book out about the Court, Jeffrey Toobin’s The Oath (affiliate link). And the new SCOTUS Term starts in just a few days, on Monday, October 1.

Given the time of the year, it’s not surprising that SCOTUS preview events are as common as Ninth Circuit reversals pro se cert petitions. I attended one sponsored by the Federalist Society earlier this month, where Kannon Shanmugam of Williams & Connolly offered excellent insights into October Term 2012. Our Supreme Court correspondent here at Above the Law, Matt Kaiser, went to a preview talk sponsored by the American Constitution Society (which he turned into Kaiser’s Guide To Bluffing Your Way Through Knowledge About The Supreme Court’s New Term).

That sounds like more than enough SCOTUS previews. But I couldn’t help myself from attending one more, due to the starpower of the panelists: Paul Clement, the former solicitor general who’s now a partner at Bancroft, and Tom Goldstein, the noted Supreme Court advocate and founder of the invaluable SCOTUSblog.

What did Messrs. Clement and Goldstein have to say about OT 2012?

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October first is the start of the new Supreme Court term!

If, like many readers, you’re a few years out of law school, this may strike you with a mild sense of dread. You remember the heady days of law school when you followed every argument, opinion, and cert grant from One First Street Northeast with an excitement rivaled only by your enthusiasm for the starting salaries for first-year associates.

Alas, the years since law school haven’t been kind to your pants size or your level of engagement with the Supreme Court.

Now, I suspect, you worry that soon — at a family dinner, dropping off your kids at preschool, or anywhere else you interact with non-lawyers — someone will recognize that you are a lawyer, and ask you what to make of the new Supreme Court term.

You have three options for how to deal with this, now, before the media frenzy over the new Supreme Court term starts.

First, you can admit to yourself that you’re no longer the gunner you used to be. You can tell people that just don’t follow the Supreme Court anymore, since you’ve gotten really interested in your exciting new life doing document review for a municipal bond arbitration.

But you’re not going to do that. If you were that good at being honest with yourself, you aren’t likely to be the kind of person who went to law school in the first place.

Second, perhaps, you can wade through the volume of information out there about the new term. Go through SCOTUSblog with the same passion you now spend tracking whether your friends from law school have better careers than you do. Maybe go to one of the OT 2012 preview events that clog every convention hall and small town library starting in mid-September.

That takes time and energy. Tom Goldstein sometimes uses really long paragraphs, and you really wanted to spend more time Googling for topless pictures of Kate Middleton.

Instead, you could let me to one of those events for you. For the truly efficient, follow the jump, sit back, and enjoy Kaiser’s Guide To Bluffing Your Way Through Knowledge About the Supreme Court’s New Term to Non-Lawyers….

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