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Supreme Court Hands Down Two Decisions with Higher Education Implications

June 27, 2016

In two close rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions last Thursday that upheld one institution's use of affirmative action in admissions and upheld a lower court's ruling against the Obama administration's plan to protect certain undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Affirmative Action

The University of Texas at Austin's consideration of race and ethnicity in college admissions is constitutional, the Court ruled in a 4-3 decision on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

It was the second time the Court heard the case brought by Abigail Fisher, who in 2008 had applied to and was rejected from the University of Texas at Austin. Fisher filed suit alleging the university's admissions policy violates the Equal Protection Clause.

The institution takes a twofold approach to admissions: Students in the top 10 percent of their high school class are first accepted for three-quarters of the incoming class. The remaining 25 percent of accepted students are evaluated in a holistic approach that includes information on their race. Fisher, a white woman, was not in the top 10 percent of her class, and after not being admitted after the holistic review, sued over race as a factor in the process.

When the Supreme Court first heard the case in 2013, justices sent it back to an appeals court to be reviewed under the strict scrutiny standard; the Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the District Court's ruling in favor of the university. On appeal from Fisher, the Supreme Court again upheld the institution's practice, in part because of the twofold admissions process.   

Immigration

In a 4-4 decision, the Supreme Court justices did not reach a ruling in the United States v. Texas, a case brought by 27 states against President Obama's executive action in 2014 to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program, which was first initiated by President Obama on June 15, 2012. As a result, the lower court's ruling blocking Obama's expansion plan is upheld.

The DACA program provides temporary relief from deportation to unauthorized immigrants who have been in the United States since childhood and meet various residential and educational criteria. The decision does not impact students who were granted protection in 2012.

In 2014, President Obama took executive action to expand DACA and to create Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), a program for illegal immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens or green card holders. This effectively would have extended deportation protection to certain adult immigrants with a son or daughter who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

The decision potentially could affect any undocumented students who received deportation protection under the November 2014 expansion of DACA and the parents and siblings of those whose status was protected in 2012.

Contact

Liz Clark
Director, Federal Affairs
202.861.2553
E-mail