SCOTUS sends affirmative-action case back to 5th Circuit

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

A lawsuit claiming that a Texas university's consideration of race in its admissions practices violates the Equal Protection Clause has been sent back by the Supreme Court of the United States to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. In its ruling on the suit filed by a Caucasian woman denied admission in 2008, the justices, however, did not strike down the use of affirmative action by the university.

In a 7-1 holding in Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al., the U.S. justices reversed the 5th Circuit’s affirmation of the university’s admissions plan because the Circuit court did not hold the school to the “demanding burden of strict scrutiny” outlined in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), and Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 305 (1978)(opinion of Powell, J).

The admissions plan at issue was adopted in 2004 following decisions in Grutter and Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003), in which the school reverted to an explicit consideration of race.

The 5th Circuit held that Grutter required courts to give substantial deference to the university, both in the definition of the compelling interest in diversity’s benefits and in deciding whether its specific plan was narrowly tailored to achieve its stated goal.

“A plaintiff, of course, bears the burden of placing the validity of a university’s adoption of an affirmative action plan in issue. But strict scrutiny imposes on the university the ultimate burden of demonstrating, before turning to racial classifications, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice,” Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

The majority ordered the 5th Circuit to assess whether the University of Texas at Austin has offered sufficient evidence to prove that its admissions program is narrowly tailored to obtain the educational benefits of diversity.

Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas wrote concurring opinions. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case.

Other cases handed down were:
•    United States v. Kebodeaux, 12-418, which held that the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act’s registration requirements as applied to Kebodeaux fall within the scope of Congress’s authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause;
•    Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett, 12-142, which held that state law design-defect claims that turn on the adequacy of a drug’s warnings are pre-empted by federal law under PLIVA Inc. v. Mensing;
•    University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, 12-484, which held that Title VII retaliation claims must be proved according to traditional principles of but-for causation, not the lessened causation test stated in 42 U.S.C. Section 2000e-2(m); and  
•    Vance v. Ball State University, et al., 11-556, which held an employee is a “supervisor” for purposes of vicarious liability under Title VII only if the supervisor is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions against the victim.  
Also Monday, the justices granted cert in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, 12-1281, on the president of the United States’ recess appointment power. The high court is asked to answer whether the president’s recess appointment power can be exercised during a recess that occurs within a session of the U.S. Senate or if it is limited to recesses that happen between enumerated sessions of the Senate. The justices are also asked to decide whether the recess appointment power may be exercised to fill existing vacancies during a recess or if it is limited to vacancies that first arose during that recess.

The parties will also brief and argue whether the recess appointment power may be exercised when the Senate is convening every three days in pro forma sessions.

The justices denied rehearing in Laura Jennings v. Indianapolis, et al., 12-9069, a case that came out of the federal court in Indianapolis and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Laura Jennings, a former employee of the Department of Defense, filed a Title VII lawsuit after she was fired during her probationary period in late 2010. She was a contract representative in the DOD’s Defense Finance and Accounting Service. She alleged retaliation in connection to her firing. The Office of Equal Opportunity Programs found her claim was untimely because she didn’t contact the EEO counselor within 45 days of her discharge and she failed to state a claim regarding unemployment benefits.

She also filed her federal lawsuit before the 180-day waiting period required to initiate a civil action after an appeal of the EEO’s decision.

The federal court in Indianapolis granted summary judgment against her on the grounds she failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The 7th Circuit affirmed in November 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court originally denied taking the case May 13.



Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.