Affirmative Action Remains

The Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision this morning in the Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case. The Court ruled 7-1, with Justice Kennedy writing for the majority and Justice Kagan recused. The majority adhered to the principle of promoting the kind of diverse educational environment that is a key component of expanding educational opportunity and fairness to all people in our diverse society. Justice Ginsberg's dissent agreed with this principle; she dissented because she felt there was already enough evidence to support UT's case without the need to remand it back to the lower court.

UT's affirmative action program was based in large part on a similar program from Michigan upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003's Grutter case. Today's opinion, like Grutter, held that affirmative action programs are subject to strict scrutiny: The law (1) has to serve a compelling state purpose, and (2) must be narrowly tailored to meet that purpose.

The majority did not overrule past cases stating that public universities have a compelling interest in the educational benefits that flow from having a diverse student body. But they did rule that the lower court, in upholding the Texas program without the type of trial that had preceded the Grutter case, had not sufficiently inquired into whether the program is narrowly tailored to meet its purpose.

So the Court did not strike down UT's program. Instead, it sent the case back to the lower court, where UT will have the opportunity at trial to demonstrate that its affirmative action program is necessary to achieve the compelling purpose of having a diverse student body. Once the University of Texas has the opportunity to make its case, its carefully crafted affirmative action program should be upheld.

Notably, today's ruling did not follow the urgings of Justices Scalia and Thomas, who signaled in separate concurrences that seeking racial diversity in public post-secondary education is illegitimate. While they found reasons to support the main opinion remanding the case, they made clear that they would like to overrule the precedents upholding affirmative action programs in public colleges and universities. But those sentiments did not carry the day.

PFAW Foundation

Jamie Raskin Discusses Key Court Cases With Progressive Leaders

Earlier this week, on a call hosted by People For the American Way, senior fellow Jamie Raskin discussed some of this term's most important Supreme Court cases in an exclusive conversation with members of our affiliate foundation's leadership networks: the African American Ministers Leadership Council, the Young Elected Officials Network, and Young People For. As the invitation stated:

In response to a national groundswell against racism, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act … Will the Supreme Court strike down the premier civil rights legislation of the twentieth century?

In response to a different type of groundswell, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act and California adopted Proposition 8. Will the Supreme Court protect the rights of gay and lesbian couples?

In response to a campus that didn't reflect diversity, the University of Texas adopted an affirmative action plan. Will the Supreme Court call that an unconstitutional act of racism?

Cases like these and so many others make it clear that the nation's courts matter. Struggles to adopt policies, for both good and evil, don't end when they're adopted by Congress, states, cities, universities, or businesses. The courts often get the last word.

And their decisions affect all of us profoundly.

Professor Raskin discussed these cases and answered questions from participants from around the country.

A recording of the call can be found here:


PFAW joins the “Stop the Greed Bus Tour” in Colorado



The "Stop the Greed" bus tour rolled into Denver, Colorado today and helped boost support for an important state ballot question on corporate political donations. PFAW’s Colorado Coordinator Ellen Dumm joined Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause (pictured above) and Luis Toro of Ethics Watch in support of the bus tour and a ballot initiative to overturn Citizens United.

On Election Day, Colorado voters will have a chance to say “no” to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited corporate campaign donations, by voting for Amendment 65. The ballot measure calls for the Colorado congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

The Stop the Greed Bus Tour is traveling to states to get the word out about how the billionaire oilmen Koch brothers are pouring millions of dollars into the 2012 elections in an effort to bolster their extreme right-wing agenda.

The Koch brothers have also bankrolled the controversial conservative group True the Vote, which has been accused of challenging eligible voters at the polls and disrupting elections.