What the Supreme Court affirmative action case means for MN colleges

Think hard about your arguments (deltaMike via Flickr)

For those wondering what today’s Supreme Court ruling on Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin means for Minnesota, I’ve spoken with a couple of Twin Cities law professors: Michele Goodwin at the University of Minnesota and Thomas Berg at the University of St. Thomas.

The bottom line:

The decision doesn’t force Minnesota colleges to change their admissions practices. But it does send a signal that they need to think more about — and ultimately justify — how they handle race in admissions.

All in all, the justices’ decision leaves affirmative action intact. It avoids making any sweeping decisions, and instead keeps the scope fairly narrow by ordering a lower court to more closely scrutinize how the University of Texas at Austin uses affirmative action when it admits students.

Goodwin said that pretty much “insulates” the rest of the U.S. from the demands put upon Texas.

But its ruling that the lower court strictly scrutinize the university’s admissions practices could be taken into account in Minnesota if affirmative-action lawsuits are ever filed here.

She told me:

“Because of that signaling, institutions may, in fact, reexamine or recalibrate what it is that they’re already doing.”

Berg seemed to agree, saying colleges need to bolster their arguments for how they conduct affirmative action. No longer, he said, can they just say “trust me” in that area.

All in all, he told me:

“This case certainly doesn’t shut the door (on affirmative action). But I think it narrows the opening some.”

(You can get full details here and some details on how the UT-Austin admits students here. But the basic background is that Abigail Fisher, a white teenager, sued the university after it rejected her admissions application in 2008. She claimed she was shut out because of her race.)

I’m hoping to get some commentary from a couple of Minnesota college-admissions officials, so more on that later.