"As the Court said in Grutter, it remains at all times the university's obligation to demonstrate, and the judiciary's obligation to determine, that admissions processes 'ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that makes an applicant's race or ethnicity the defining feature of his or her application,'" Kennedy said.
Edward Blum, who helped engineer Fisher's challenge, said it is unlikely that the Texas plan and many other college plans can long survive. "The Supreme Court has established exceptionally high hurdles for the University of Texas and other universities and colleges to overcome if they intend to continue using race preferences in their admissions policies, said Blum, director of The Project on Fair Representation in Alexandria, Va.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton said the court "ducked" the big issues in the case. While he would have preferred that the justices affirm the use of race in college admissions, "a duck is better than a no, but not as good as a yes," Sharpton said. Sharpton, along with Martin Luther King III, was leading a National Press Club news conference announcing initial plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington.
Retired Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and John Paul Stevens, both members of the majority in the Grutter case, were in the courtroom Monday for the Texas decision.
The challenge to the Texas plan gained traction in part because the makeup of the court has changed since the last time the justices ruled on affirmative action in higher education in 2003. Then, O'Connor wrote the majority opinion that held that colleges and universities can use race in their quest for diverse student bodies.
O'Connor retired in 2006, and her replacement, Justice Samuel Alito, has shown himself to be more skeptical of considerations of race in education.