Supreme Court to Take a New Look at Racial Preferences

Sandra Day O’Connor was the deciding vote in the 2003 Grutter case that permitted the continued use of race in admissions decisions at colleges and universities in the United States. Now O’Connor has retired and has been replaced by Justice Samuel Alito, who many observers believe is a staunch opponent of race-based affirmative action.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced this past week that it will once again examine the issue of racial preferences in education. The court accepted for review two cases involving admissions procedures for public schools in Seattle, Washington, and Louisville, Kentucky. Both school districts allow the use of race as a factor in assigning students to schools.

In Seattle, when a particular high school had more applicants than places, race was used as one factor to maintain a school’s student body at a level as close as possible to the racial makeup of the school district as a whole. The racial factor was more important in assigning places than the school’s proximity to the student’s home.

Supporters of the Grutter ruling, permitting most pursuits of racial preferences in higher education, see a real possibility that Grutter will be overturned.