The University of Texas was sued in 2008 by Abigail Fisher, who is white, for being denied admission. Instead of a landmark decision on affirmative action, the Supreme Court instead voted 7-1 to tell a lower appeals court to take another look at Fisher's lawsuit.
Powers said he was "encouraged" by the ruling that left the use of affirmative action in admissions intact while the lower court considers the case.
Powers said the admissions policy was crafted after previous Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action, and the school would continue to defend the policy against Fisher's lawsuit. Texas has used the race-inclusive admission policy since 2005.
"Today's ruling will have no impact on admissions decisions we have already made or any immediate impact on our holistic admissions policies," Powers said.
UT admits most of its students under a state law requiring admission for students that rank among the top 8 percent in their class. For other students, race is considered among many factors, including academic record, personal essays, leadership potential, extracurricular activities, and honors and awards.
The school says race is not used to set quotas, which the Supreme Court previously rejected.
Before using race as a factor, Texas' student body was 21 percent African-American and Hispanic. By 2007, African-Americans and Hispanics accounted for more than a quarter of the entering freshman class.
Fisher's lawsuit argued the automatic admissions process achieved the diversity the university wants. More than 8 in 10 African-American and Latino students who enrolled at the flagship campus in Austin in 2011 were automatically admitted, according to university statistics.
White students constituted less than half the entering class when students with Asian backgrounds and other minorities were added in.
Fisher has since graduated from Louisiana State University.
"I am grateful to the justices for moving the nation closer to the day when a student's race isn't used at all in college admissions," Fisher said Monday in a statement issued by her attorney.
Civil rights groups that supported the university's admission policy said they were confident it will survive further court review.
"This is a win for the principles of opportunity, diversity, and equality," said of Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "It will be critically important that the voices of students -- those most affected by the policy -- be fully heard at any re-hearing."
Following is a statement from University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers regarding today's Supreme Court ruling in the case of Fisher versus University of Texas. The ruling relates to the use of ethnicity as one factor in determining college admissions.
"We're encouraged by the Supreme Court's ruling in this case.
We will continue to defend the University's admission policy on remand in the lower court under the strict standards that the Court first articulated in the Bakke case, reaffirmed in the Grutter case, and laid out again today. We believe the University's policy fully satisfies those standards.
We remain committed to assembling a student body at The University of Texas at Austin that provides the educational benefits of diversity on campus while respecting the rights of all students and acting within the constitutional framework established by the Court.
Today's ruling will have no impact on admissions decisions we have already made or any immediate impact on our holistic admissions policies."
Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Trey Martinez Fischer issued the following statement:
"Today's ruling in Fisher gives the Fifth Circuit a second chance to make the right call and affirm the value of diversity in college admissions. I am pleased the Supreme Court has preserved the Texas affirmative action program for the time being but know this issue is far from settled.
As a graduate of the University of Texas Law School, I can attest to the value that racial diversity brings to an educational experience. Learning alongside students from different backgrounds helped broaden my personal horizons and introduce me to new ways of thinking. I was exposed to a broad cross-section of the American experience.
I know that my time at UT - surrounded by people with different backgrounds and unique histories – helped shape the type of person I am today, as an attorney, a legislator and an American."
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