The US Supreme Court, though depleted at present to eight Justices after the death of Antonin Scalia, can still muster majorities in controversial cases.
One of the most controversial issues regularly before the Court (up there with abortion and guns) is affirmative action, especially in college admissions. At the end of last week, in Fisher v University of Texas __ US __ (23 June 2016) the Court held that a race-conscious admissions program in use at the time of petitioner’s application was lawful under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. In the course of his judgment for the majority, Kennedy J stressed that, in the case of “an academic judgment … some, but not complete, judicial deference is proper”.
In this post and the next, I want to leave aside the (relatively narrow, but – in my view – sensible and precise) holding on the affirmative action issues, and focus instead on the issue judicial deference to academic judgment. In this post, I will consider the nature of such deference. In the next post, I will consider its limits.
In Fisher, Kennedy J held that, once “a university gives ‘a reasoned, principled explanation’ for its decision, deference must be given ‘to the University’s conclusion, based on its experience and expertise, that a diverse student body would serve its educational goals’,” (citing an earlier stage in the Fisher litigation: Fisher v University of Texas at Austin 570 US __ (24 June 2013); the earlier decision was referred to in the sequel as Fisher I, and the sequel under consideration here is being referred to as Fisher II).…