Affirmative action in college admissions survived Supreme Court review Monday in a consensus decision that avoided the difficult constitutional issues surrounding a challenge to the University of Texas admission plan.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the court’s 7-1 ruling that said a court should approve the use of race as a factor in admissions only after it concludes “that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.”
But the decision did not question the underpinnings of affirmative action, which the high court last reaffirmed in 2003. Kennedy was a dissenter in the ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger in 2003.
The Texas ruling seemed certain to generate more challenges to race-conscious admissions plans, even as civil rights advocates celebrated that the door on affirmative action had not been slammed shut. One indication that the court did not decide anything of great moment Monday came from the lineup of justices who joined Kennedy’s opinion.
Both Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has gratefully acknowledged the role of affirmative action in her education at Princeton University and Yale Law School, and Justice Clarence Thomas, an affirmative action opponent who has said he felt stigmatized by the racial preference that helped him get into the same law school as Sotomayor, sided with Kennedy on Monday.
In other action Monday, the justices:
• Ruled generic drug manufacturers can’t be sued in state court for a drug’s design defects if federal officials approved the brand-name version the generic drug copied.
• Said they would consider reviving an Environmental Protection Agency regulation intended to reduce power plant emissions that cause pollution in neighboring states.
• Rejected challenges to EPA decisions allowing an increase in ethanol content in gasoline.