A federal appeals court panel has ruled that the University of Texas can continue using race in its undergraduate admissions.
A Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans ruled 2–1 Tuesday that barring the University of Texas from "limited use of race" would hurt diversity on campus.
"It is equally settled that universities may use race as part of a holistic admissions program where it cannot otherwise achieve diversity," said the panel's majority opinion.
The university was sued in 2008 by Abigail Fisher, who is white, for being denied admission.
The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court last year. But rather than issue a landmark decision on affirmative action, the high court voted 7–1 to tell a lower appeals court to take another look at Fisher's lawsuit.
The Supreme Court indicated in its ruling on the Texas case that university admission policies could be more vulnerable to legal challenges in the future, but it did not strike the policy down.
The university said at the time that that decision would have no effect on its admissions policies.
Fisher's attorneys said they plan to appeal.
"It is disappointing that the judges hearing my case are not following the Supreme Court's ruling last summer. I remain committed to continuing this lawsuit, even if it means we appeal to the Supreme Court once again," Fisher said in a release.
In April, the Supreme Court ruled 6–2 that Michigan could continue its ban on using race as a factor in college admissions, saying the state’s voters had the right to change their constitution to prohibit public colleges and universities from taking race into account in admissions decisions.
The issue in the Michigan case differed from the Texas one in that it focused on the political process that led to the policy change, not on the overall ban on affirmative action.
The Michigan decision reversed that of an appeals court, which had ruled that the change was discriminatory. Civil rights groups have said barring race in college admissions places a burden on racial minorities, and is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Al Jazeera and wire services