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College affirmative action back on Supreme Court’s horizon

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Monday, August 1, 2011

When the Supreme Court in 2003 narrowly approved the consideration of race in public university admission decisions, it came with loads of restrictions and a sort of expiration date.

“We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote for the majority in Grutter v. Bollinger .

But, of course, O’Connor is now retired from the court, replaced by Samuel A. Alito Jr., a justice far more skeptical of racial remedies. And two recent decisions in lower courts have raised the prospect that the issue will return to the high court far ahead of O’Connor’s timeline.

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Civil rights groups get nervous when such cases arise before the reconstituted Roberts Court. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President John A. Payton hopes Texas’s unique system makes it a bad fit for a high court review of race-conscious programs.

“I don’t think the court is looking to overturn Grutter,” he said.