The Supreme Court remained silent Monday on race-conscious admissions policies in higher education, refusing to hear Texas' challenge to a ruling that its law school affirmative action program discriminated against whites.
Without comment, the decision not to take the case showed the justices are not ready to break years of silence on preferential admissions in public colleges. This may not be the last word, however, because challenges to the University of Michigan's preferential policies could reach the court in its October term.
The high court hasn't spoken definitively on the issue since the fractured 1978 Bakke decision, when the majority said universities may take race into account in admissions.
States across the country are wrestling with ways to keep up minority enrollment in public colleges, and several are operating under court orders or negotiated agreements to end discrimination in higher education.
While the Texas case involved the law school policy, it had a much broader effect in the state. Once the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the policy, the state devised a new system for all its undergraduate public colleges.
The substitute includes guaranteed admission to any public university in the state to students who graduate in the top 10% of their high school classes.
For professional schools, however, the state's alternative was extensive minority recruitment.
"Today's order resolves nothing," University of Texas law professor Douglas Laycock said. "We are disappointed, but sooner or later the court will decide this issue."
Two lawsuits challenged the school's policy of considering race.
In March, a federal judge in Detroit struck down the law school's admissions policy, saying the criteria were not clearly defined and relied too heavily on race.
The decision contradicted another lower court ruling that upheld Michigan's undergraduate preferential admissions standards, in place since 1999.
Both cases have been appealed to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Michael Rosman, an attorney for the two white students who challenged the Texas policy, said the court may place greater significance on the Michigan case because there's a preferential system still in place.