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February 27, 2012
Supreme Court to Rule in Affirmative Action Case: Could Employers Be Affected?

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case concerning affirmative action in higher education. While the case involves public colleges and universities, the ruling could eventually impact other courts' decisions on affirmative action programs outside of higher education, notes BLR Legal Editor Susan Schoenfeld.

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Background. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger that public colleges and universities could not use a point system to boost minority enrollment but could take race into account in vaguer ways to ensure academic diversity.

At the time, the ruling was intended to stand for 25 years.

The case. Nine years later, the Supreme Court, with a different composition of Justices, has agreed to hear a new case, Fisher v. Texas. In Fisher, a white student is suing the state, claiming she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of her race.

In Texas, students in the top 10 percent of their high school are automatically admitted to the state’s public university system. Fisher fell below 10 percent and was not admitted to the University of Texas. In 2008, she sued, claiming that the state made admission decisions for the remaining spots using a system that uses race as a factor.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the case.

While Fisher concerns higher education, a ruling against affirmative action programs could indirectly affect employers' and government contractors' hiring practices.

“The school systems tend to lead the way for the courts concerning affirmative action,” says Schoenfeld.

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