Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Two days before early voting, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to uphold Texas’ controversial voter identification law for the 2014 elections.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the law Saturday, six to three, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor voting against.

On Tuesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted to reinstate the voter ID law, known as Senate Bill 14. The law, which requires voters to bring a valid photo ID to the polls, will continue to be enforced with the Supreme Court’s decision. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled the law was unconstitutional less than two weeks ago, equating it with a “poll tax,” and saying it oppressed minority voters. 

Ginsburg wrote a six-page dissent on her reasons for overturning the previous decision to enforce the voter ID law, saying the Court of Appeals’ decision was made for the wrong reasons.

“Refusing to evaluate the defendants’ likelihood of success on the merits and, instead relying exclusively on the potential disruption of Texas’ electoral processes, the Fifth Circuit showed little respect for this Court’s established stay standards,” Ginsburg wrote.

Lauren Bean, spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General’s office, released a statement praising the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed that Texas’ voter ID law should remain in effect for the upcoming election,” Bean said. “The state will continue to defend the voter ID law and remains confident that the district court’s misguided ruling will be overturned on the merits. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that voter ID laws are a legal and sensible way to protect the integrity of elections.”

While the law will be in effect for this year’s elections, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will continue to review its constitutionality.

Supreme Court takes important step toward equality

This Jan. 25, 2012 file photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington. The justices are unlikely to have the last word on America's tangled efforts to address health care woes. The problems of high medical costs, widespread waste, and tens of millions of people without insurance will require Congress and the president to keep looking for answers.
This Jan. 25, 2012 file photo shows the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington. The justices are unlikely to have the last word on America's tangled efforts to address health care woes. The problems of high medical costs, widespread waste, and tens of millions of people without insurance will require Congress and the president to keep looking for answers.

In a stunning reversal, the US Supreme Court allowed by omission yesterday for same-sex marriage to go forward in five states, and cleared the way for marriage equality in a further six. The way they did this was by refusing to hear an appeal on the decision by a few federal appeals courts to strike down local laws banning same-sex marriage.

While Texas indeed currently has a stayed federal court order against its so-called defense of marriage amendment, it was not covered by the Supreme Court's actions (or inactions) Monday. In fact, it will probably be the Texas case that will cause the justices to finally examine this question of nationwide same-sex marriage once and for all. With the Texas case currently tied up in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a fiercely conservative court, there is a good chance that it will affirm the bans. This will cause a split in appellate decisions, which hitherto have been unanimous in striking down the bans. A split would almost certainly necessitate the Supreme Court getting involved.

The slow and incremental steps that the court is taking appear to be in the same spirit of gradual change that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has long advocated. A critic of the abruptness of the court's decision in Roe v. Wade, Ginsburg has derided sudden nationwide mandates, calling them a catalyst for polarizing gridlock. Instead, she has argued for public opinion to change and then for the court to take baby steps. Chief Justice John Roberts, long obsessive over the court's public image, could have likely come to a similar conclusion.

,And with public opinion rapidly changing on this issue, the court took yet another baby step toward equality on the topic Monday. Indeed, in one of fastest reversals in political history, the percentage of Americans supportive of same-sex marriage has nearly doubled from about 30% in 2004 to about 60% today. It's a good step, but there is still much left to do.

Horwitz is an associate editor.

On June 24, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision for Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the case brought by Abigail Fisher which sought to curb UT's ability to use race as a factor in its admissions process. The court's decision was viewed as a victory by both sides: The court did not call for an outright ban on affirmative action as some feared, but they did demand that race-based admissions programs be judged using a test known as "strict scrutiny." UT will now have to prove to the lower courts that its use of race in admissions is necessary to increase diversity. If UT cannot prove that, it might result in a situation where race-based admissions are technically legal but in practice the courts will always strike them down. 

As the Fisher case returns to the lower courts, the University's opponents will likely use the success of the Top 10 Percent Plan against it, claiming that it has been so successful in increasing diversity that explicit consideration of race is unnecessary. However, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in the only dissenting opinion, "Texas' percentage plan was adopted with racially segregated neighborhoods and schools front and center stage." Thus, she found it laughable that the Top 10 plan was a race-blind way to increase diversity. She recalled a quip from the law professor Thomas Reed Powell: "If you think that you can think about a thing inextricably attached to something else without thinking of the thing which it is attached to, then you have a legal mind." As we observe the aftermath of the Fisher case, it is important to consider how this court full of "legal minds" has become dangerously out of touch with the everyday reality of racism that Americans of color must face.

The requirement of "strict scrutiny" carries the implied message that racial discrimination is no longer something that must be fought for on a large scale. The fact that the court has questioned the necessity of a program designed to counteract a long history of racial injustice shows just how naive they are about the severity of racism in this country.

Is racism over in this country? Not even close. As of July 2012, only 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were people of color, according to the Center for American Progress. How about in government? The current Congress is the most diverse in history, but even so the Senate is still almost entirely white, having only five people of color. Now is absolutely not the time to stop fighting racism, and the court's lack of perspective in regard to racial injustice threatens to halt or even reverse the progress that has already been made.

Justice Clarence Thomas' stance toward affirmative action is a particularly concerning example of the court's lack of understanding of pragmatic race politics. Thomas spent most of his lengthy concurring opinion comparing affirmative action to segregation and slavery, failing to meaningfully consider that segregation and affirmative action have, by definition, opposite goals. He also argued that affirmative action hurts students of color, because those admitted under such programs cannot handle the schoolwork. "Blacks and Hispanics admitted to the University as a result of racial discrimination are, on average, far less prepared than their white and Asian classmates," he said. While his statistics on this point may well be accurate, he seems unconcerned that the root of this problem is in fact the same long-standing racial injustice which affirmative action aims to fix. How does Thomas expect students of color to be just as prepared as their white counterparts when they have grown up in communities systematically deprived of the resources necessary to provide quality education?

Of course, it must be recognized that the Supreme Court does not have unlimited power to create and alter laws as it pleases, and it must judge its cases within the lines of the law as it is written. However, the court does interpret the law, and it is naive to think that the justices do not use their own values and perspectives as they decide cases that affect our nation's future. Although the ruling handed down in Fisher could have been far worse news for advocates of racial equality, a troubling disconnect has been revealed between the court's idealistic denial of race and the reality that racism is still at large. The court's equivocating decision hides behind the precedent of "strict scrutiny," and the justices have blissfully ignored the racial discrimination with which ordinary people of color must live every day. Unless our justices can supplement their "legal minds" with a sensible dose of pragmatism and human compassion, we have good reason to worry for the future viability of the highest court in the land.

Birkenstock is a linguistics junior from Long Island, N.Y.

UT President William Powers Jr. addresses reporters at a press conference following a Supreme Court announcement on Fisher v. Texas.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

Updated at 3:00 p.m.

Original Story 

After a lengthy period of deliberation, the United States Supreme Court has avoided a sweeping ruling on the Fisher v. University of Texas case and instead ruled to send back the deliberation to a lower court for review.

In a 7-1 decision,  the court has decided that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit will be required to reexamine its opinion in Fisher after the high body found the Fifth Circuit had assumed UT had acted in "good faith" when applying race as a factor in admissions without applying strict scrutiny to its review.  Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued the sole dissent.

In an opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has previously opposed the use of race as a factor in admissions in favor of other measures such as socioeconomic status, the court also upheld the compelling interest of racial diversity.

"The court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity," wrote Kennedy.

Kennedy's opinion made no mention of the goalpost set in Grutter suggesting public universities could cease using race as a factor in admissions after 25 years. Instead, the opinion only said the use of race in admissions at public universities remains a compelling state interest. 

In a statement, President Williams Powers Jr. said he was "encouraged" by the court's ruling and that the decision would have no effect on the University's admissions process for the next class of 2018. The University has not yet scheduled a date for the Fifth Circut Court hearing, or decided which legal team will represent UT at the court, said Kedra Ishop, vice provost and director of admissions. 

"We will continue to defend the University’s admission policy on remand in the lower court under the strict standards that the Court first articulated in the Bakke case, reaffirmed in the Grutter case, and laid out again today," Powers said, who added at an afternoon press conference that the University hoped to eventually strive to a point where the factoring of race was no longer necessary.

Abigail Fisher, who is white, initiated the lawsuit when she sued the University in 2008 claiming UT violated her right to equal protection when admissions considered her race as a factor in her application. At an afternoon press conference with Fisher on Monday, Edward Blum, director of the Project for Fair Representation, an organization that supports her position, said the court ruling was "a win" given the unusual conseus of the ruling.

"This ruling shows that universities that continue to use race based admissions will find themselves embrolied in polarizing and costly litigation," Blum said.  

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg argued UT had sufficiently explicated its use of race in admissions. Additionally, she argued the court should consider legacies of discrimination and historic inequality in calculating the compelling interest of race as a factor in admissions.

"Among constitutionally permissible options, I remain convinced, 'those that candidly disclose their consideration of race [are] preferable to those that conceal it,'" Ginsburg wrote. 

The ruling was a victory for supporters of affirmative action, said David Hinojosa, regional counsel for the Southwest office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a group that filed briefs on behalf of the University last summer.

"It's a great decision by the court reaffirming diversity as a compelling interest," Hinojosa said. "MALDEF expects to dilligently monitor case as it is remanded but we are confident that UT’s limited use of race in admissions will be upheld."

Student supporters of UT's use of race in admissions should feel similarly, said history senior Joshua Tang, head of a student initative to defend the University's admissions policy.

"The opinion from the court today is very interesting," Tang said. "We are very happy that affirmative action continues to be a compelling interest and that the University's current admissions process is continuing to go in effect."

Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas both wrote separate opinions concurring with Kennedy, but together argued the precedent of using race as a factor in admissions should be overturned. Glenn Ricketts, spokesman of the National Association of Scholars, which filed briefs on behalf of Fisher last year, said their organization agreed with that proposal.

"We'll have to see what happens, because this obviously isn't over yet," Ricketts said. "We hope the Appeals Court decides to rule on side of favoring individual merit in admissions and not any form of quotas."

Abigail Fisher did not qualify for admission to the University under the Top Ten Percent Law when she applied in 2008, a statewide mandate which automatically admits the top ten percent of in-state graduating high school seniors to Texas public universities every year. Instead, she applied under holistic admissions, which includes race, socioeconomic status, gender and other factors in the application. Fisher was admitted to UT under the CAP program, but instead chose to attend Louisiana State University.

During oral arguments, several justices questioned Fisher’s right to stand, contending she would not have been admitted to the University regardless of the use of race in her application because of her low admissions criteria. Fisher has since graduated from LSU and currently resides in Austin.

UT admits more white students than any other racial group under its race-inclusive admissions policy. Students admitted under race-inclusive admissions also come largely from households with incomes above $50,000.

Currently, the number of students admitted under the Top Ten Percent Law is capped at 75 percent of the incoming class, meaning 25 percent are chosen based on their race and other factors.

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