Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito begins his dissenting opinion to Fisher v. University of Texas by pronouncing that “Something strange has happened since our prior decision on this case.” He wonders how the University of Texas (UT) could emerge victorious from its contest with Abigail Fisher over the constitutionality of its race-conscious admissions policy without addressing “the important issues in the case” raised by the Court three years ago (Fisher II 28). Then and now, UT did not meet Justice Alito’s strict scrutiny when explaining why affirmative action is a compelling interest for the government–the only reason allowed under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause for the state to make decisions based on the race and ethnicity of an individual. This time around, however, Justice Alito has a new reason to be skeptical.
Justice Alito devotes significant attention to his point that UT invalidates its compelling interest claim by discriminating against Asian Americans. “How can a diverse student body contribute to the greater good,” he seems to ask, “when Asian American diversity doesn’t count?” This would be a fair question if not for copious evidence refuting the notion that affirmative action discriminates against Asian Americans (see the amici submitted on behalf of UT representing over one-hundred Asian American organizations, including the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Asian Americans Advancing Justice). In this blog I want to draw attention to another, rather obvious flaw in Justice Alito’s thinking. Abigail Fisher isn’t an Asian American.
Today, the Supreme Court handed down another major decision. After they voted last week to protect affirmative action (yay!), but then were deadlocked on DACA and DAPA effectively killing the Obama Administration’s sweeping relief for undocumented immigrants (boo!), I wasn’t sure if I could take any more important SCOTUS decisions. Thankfully, the weekend offered a brief reprieve before today, when Justice Stephen Breyer announced the 5-3 majority opinion in Whole Woman’s Health v. Texas wherein the Court sided with reproductive health providers against the “undue burden” placed upon them by Texas legislators.
In the historic Roe v. Wade decision that first legalized abortion as a constitutionally-protected right, Supreme Court justices ruled that “abortion . . . is performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient.” However, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the majority of Supreme Court justices also established that “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion impose an undue burden on the right [to access abortion procedures].” In Whole Woman’s Health v. Texas, the Supreme Court was challenged to decide whether newly passed regulations on the Texas’ abortion clinics — requiring that clinics have extra-wide hallways and that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals — posed an undue burden that unconstitutionally compromised abortion access for Texas’ women.
The regulations were passed in Texas as part of a concerted national effort by conservative anti-abortion activists and legislators to eliminate abortion access by enacting state-level Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws. In essence, the anti-abortion movement seeks to disenfranchise women by enacting laws state-by-state that make the constitutional right to access abortion procedures so practically tedious as to be essentially inaccessible for the vast majority of women.
The Supreme Court handed down their long-anticipated decision on Fisher v University of Texas II yesterday, eight years after Abigail Fisher (who is White) first filed suit challenging holistic review at the University of Texas. Fisher alleged that the University’s holistic admissions process, which includes race-conscious affirmative action, denied her admission to the school. The Court had previously heard Fisher’s case, and essentially punted it back to the lower courts asking them to take a second look. When the Fifth Circuit again ruled in favour of the University of Texas, the Supreme Court was once again challenged to weigh in.
There was a lot at stake with this decision in the case now known as Fisher II: a decision against the University of Texas’ admissions program could effectively dismantle affirmative action programs across the country.
But, in a 4-3 vote, the Supreme Court elected to reaffirm the Court’s earlier perspectives on affirmative action as outlined in the landmark Grutter case which first explicitly established the “compelling interest” of colleges and universities to address issues of campus diversity through the limited and narrow use of racial information.
Scalia’s death will have immediate impact on several high-profile cases scheduled to be decided this Supreme Court session, and legal scholars at SCOTUSblog say the predicted tie votes will likely lead to reargument in the next session after a new Supreme Court Justice is appointed to fill the vacancy left with Scalia’s passing.
Meanwhile, the fight over whom President Obama will nominate to the nation’s highest court — or, even whether the Senate will obstruct these proceedings until after a new president has been inaugurated — has already begun. Just hours after Scalia’s death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed that Senate Republicans would refuse to confirm any person nominated by President Obama to the Supreme Court.
43 years ago today, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that would serve as an important foundation principle for the establishment of reproductive rights for women. In a 7-2 decision, the Justices ruled that the government had no right to interfere with a woman’s decision to seek (or not seek) an abortion for non-medical reasons; this choice, they declared, was protected by our constitutional right to privacy.
Since then, Roe v. Wade has had an incredible impact on women, enabling an unprecedented social, political and economic mobility for women in general.