Multi-Factor University of Texas Admission Policy Upheld; Court Deadlocks in Immigration Case

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, today welcomed the U.S. Supreme Court’s four-to-three decision upholding the admissions policy of the University of Texas against a constitutional challenge. Weingarten said:

“The AFT, as the nation’s largest union of faculty and a longtime champion of racial equity, joins with our allies in celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm what we already know—that affirmative action is one tool among many to level the opportunity playing field and to combat racial segregation and inequity.

“Students—regardless of race or ethnicity—deserve access to a quality higher education. And our colleges and universities are strengthened through diverse student bodies, which provide richer learning environments for all students.

“Affirmative action promotes diversity, but more importantly, it helps level an unjustly tilted playing field. For people of color, massive income inequality and gross disparities in educational opportunity mean that learning and career opportunities too often remain separate and unequal.

“A case like this highlights not only the importance of having Supreme Court justices who value fairness and diversity, but also what’s at stake in the 2016 election.”

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion upholding the narrowly tailored use of affirmative action in this case was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Republican appointee. Justice Kennedy often has been the deciding vote in close cases before the high court, and this one was no different. Pundits have been predicting the imminent demise of affirmative action at the Supreme Court for decades now, but this practice to assure diversity and fair educational opportunity for minorities has retained majority support nonetheless.

Educators also took a keen interest in the Supreme Court’s ruling in another case out of Texas challenging President Obama’s November 2014 executive action that would have shielded certain undocumented immigrants from deportation at least temporarily. The president’s policy expanded the number of children educated in our schools who would be shielded, and it allowed otherwise law-abiding parents of children born here to avoid forced family separation through deportation. AFT has supported the policy as an appropriate exercise of the president’s authority to set immigrant-deportation priorities in the absence of congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform.

The Supreme Court today deadlocked four to four on this issue. The inconclusive outcome has the effect of leaving a lower court’s injunction against the president’s policy in place for the time being. But a tie vote like this one sets no precedent to be followed in the future.

The ultimate judicial resolution of this issue, in some future case, now awaits the arrival of a ninth member of the Supreme Court to replace the recently deceased Justice Antonin Scalia.

However, the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate has blocked any consideration of President Obama’s nominee to fill Scalia’s seat, federal appeals-court judge Merrick Garland, at least until after the presidential election on November 8.