On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit released the latest opinion in UT v. Fisher, the ongoing battle over the role of race-based preferences in the University of Texas at Austin’s undergraduate admissions policy. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth Circuit had failed to apply the proper strict scrutiny standard to its earlier review of UT’s admissions scheme. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the court “must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” He cautioned that, if a non-race-discriminatory approach could bring about UT’s stated goal of a “critical mass” of campus diversity, “then the university may not consider race.” The Court remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit. This week, two of the three judges on the Fifth Circuit panel concluded that the use of race was, indeed, necessary.
Judge Emilio Garza’s dissent (beginning on page 44) criticizes the majority opinion for deferring impermissibly to UT’s claims, despite the Supreme Court’s instruction. He writes, “Although the University has articulated its diversity goal as a ‘critical mass,’ surprisingly, it has failed to define this term in any objective manner.” He later writes, “The majority entirely overlooks the University’s failure to define its ‘critical mass’ objective for the purposes of assessing narrow tailoring. This is the crux of this case — absent a meaningful explanation of its desired ends, the University cannot prove narrow tailoring under its strict scrutiny burden.”
How much diversity is a critical mass of diversity? Is this a unit of measure like a team of oxen or a murder of crows? How can a court possibly determine whether a given policy is necessary to achieve critical mass if we don’t know what that is? UT isn’t exactly the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, but a little bit more precision would be helpful.
The concept of critical mass is problematic for many reasons. Its vagueness provides a poor measure for reviewing courts. It packs in several dubious assumptions about the meaning of race. Here’s one more reason why “critical mass” is such a critical mess . . . .
* After losing before the Supreme Court, the University of Texas affirmative action admissions program looked to be in serious trouble. But the Fifth Circuit just ruled that the UT policy met the strict-scrutiny analysis mandated by the Court. The lesson for Abigail Fisher is once more, “How about you get better grades instead of whining?” Or at least “Get politically connected.” [Chronicle of Higher Education]
* Apple agrees to a conditional $450 million settlement with the NYAG’s office in the e-book suit. So you might get some money back from the 50 Shades of Grey purchase. [Reuters]
* The Manassas city police have decided not to engage in kiddie porn pursuant to a warrant. Good for them. [Washington Post]
* “Judges are not deities. They are humans.” Let’s not tell Lat, the shock might kill him. [Katz Justice]
* The hell? Parents arrested for letting their 9-year-old go to the park alone? Suffocating parenting is bad enough without the government expecting it of parents. [Slate]
* CPAs are suing the IRS because the regulation of tax preparers lacks Congressional approval. Because we need more folks off the street claiming to be tax preparers. [TaxProf Blog]
* Lawyer and former South Carolina GOP executive director Todd Kincannon is under investigation by the South Carolina Office of Disciplinary Counsel for basically being a dick on Twitter. As Ken White notes, the First Amendment is all about giving guys like this a forum. [Slate]
A dizzying array of legal news delivered almost non-stop for an entire week. Emotional highs when DOMA is struck down, lows when a pillar of the legal landscape for nearly 50 years is swept aside, leaving millions of Americans even more concerned about their constitutional rights than they were before. There was an epic filibuster and failed jokes. This was a hell of a week to be covering the law.
As the frenzied week draws to a close, I decided to look back and compile my personal review of the major events of the week, gathered in one omnibus post.
So let’s take a look at the week that was ranging from Aaron Hernandez to the Supreme Court…
Elie here. In sports, we assess the legacy of athletes after every game. In politics, we assess the legacy of elected officials after every vote or scandal. So why can’t we do the same for Supreme Court justices?
In case you’ve been living under a rock, it’s been a pretty big week over at One First Street. The Court has decided a number of high-profile, controversial cases. Those decisions have come down with strong holdings, blistering dissents, and stinging concurrences. Each justice is aware that the words they’ve published this week could be around for a long time, long after they’re dead, and will be judged by history.
But who has time to wait for history? David Lat and I engage in some instant legacy analysis on what this week has meant for each of the nine justices on the Supreme Court. Let’s break it down in order of seniority, starting with the Chief….
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….
I want to put to rest all of the nutty conspiracy theories that have circulated around the Fisher case. Any speculation that the Court is struggling with drafting the opinion, or opinions, is pure nonsense.
The truth behind the delay is far more mundane. As you may have guessed, we’re still waiting for the go-ahead from Madame Zena, the official Court Astrologer.
– John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, sharing the reason why the Supreme Court has been slow to release the long-awaited opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas, an affirmative action case. It seems Madame Zena “perceived dark times” for any social policy opinion issued while the stars and planets were misaligned. We hope next week’s horoscope looks brighter.
* Today is most likely going to be a banner decision day for the Supreme Court, so in wild anticipation, SCOTUS expert Nina Totenberg was on call to answer some need-to-know questions for the people about the innermost workings of the Court. [NPR]
* One of the opinions we hope will drop at the Supreme Court today is that of the Fisher v. Texas affirmative action case. If you want some hints on how the three justices who attended Princeton (not counting Kagan) might rule, check this out. [Daily Princetonian]
* Justice Samuel Alito is out in Texas where he threw the first pitch — “a bit wide of the plate” — in last night’s Rangers game. Will SCOTUS unleash anything important in his absence? [Washington Post]
* Meanwhile, while we eagerly await decisions in the gay marriage cases next week, consider for a moment the possibility that this is all just but a gigantic train wreck waiting to happen. [New Republic]
* Things are heating up in North Dakota where the battle over abortion regulations continues to rage on. What a shame, especially since we supposedly took care of this stuff in the early 70s. [ABC News]
* “If this is what these women signed up for, who is anybody to tell them differently?” Two pimps were acquitted of sex trafficking after prostitutes testified on their behalf. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* Crafty trial tactics out of C-Town. A Cuyahoga County prosecutor was fired after he admitted to posing as a woman in a Facebook chat with an accused killer’s alibi witnesses in an attempt to persuade them to change their testimony. [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
* If you post on Facebook asking your employer to fire you, you can’t get mad when they, you know, fire you. [IT-Lex]
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.
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