June 23, 2016 12:00PM

Affirmative Action Ruling Disappointing but Narrow

The Supreme Court’s 4–3 ruling upholding UT-Austin’s use of racial preferences in admissions was surprising and disappointing. Justice Alito does well to call out the majority’s imperial opinion as having no clothes. “Something strange has happened since our prior decision in this case,” he begins in his magisterial dissent — referring to the Court’s 2013 ruling directing the lower court to scrutinize university officials’ self‐​serving justifications for their policy.

“Even though UT has never provided any coherent explanation for its asserted need to discriminate on the basis of race,” Alito concludes in a way I can’t improve upon, “and even though UT’s position relies on a series of unsupported and noxious racial assumptions, the majority concludes that UT has met its heavy burden.” (He cites Cato’s two amicus briefs for the proposition that UT’s misleading legal arguments can’t be trusted.)

The best that can be said about this decision is that it’s limited to the weird affirmative action program that UT‐​Austin uses, which is unique in the country. Future lawsuits are still possible, and will depend on the type of racial preferences challenged and, of course, the composition of the Supreme Court.