Nightly News   |  June 24, 2013

New standards to justify affirmative action admissions

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday schools must pass a stricter legal test when using affirmative action in school admissions. NBC’s Pete Williams reports.

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>>> the supreme court ruled today in one of the most anticipated cases of this term on the issue of affirmative action , back when it was created it was meant to be just that. affirmative action taken to correct racial imbalance. today, the court says colleges and universities may continue to use it in their admissions, but must first pass a stricter legal test . our justice correspondent pete williams was with us for the ruling. he is with us tonight.

>> reporter: proponents to affirmative action were hoping that the court would put a stop to it. but it did raise the bar that schools have to clear to justify it. ist a setback from the university of texas at austin . they use affirmative action to achieve a diverse campus. the program was challenged by a white applicant, abigail fisher , turned down five years ago.

>> i'm grateful to the justices to moving closer to a day when student race isn't used at all for admissions.

>> reporter: the justices said dystingzs are always legally suspect. because of that, wrote justice kennedy for the court 7-1 majority, schools must show no workable race neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity. ruth guider ginsberg said that texas already passed that test. and civil rights advocates were relieved opponents did not get their wish, an outright ban.

>> what they wanted was a reversal. they didn't get that.

>> a number of directions that the justices could have turned in today's ruling. and this 7-1 ruling represents a positive outcome for this university, for the state, and for the nation.

>> reporter: but the decision will undoubtedly invite more lawsuits, forcing some schools to invite on economic background or experience overcoming adversity instead of race to get a diverse campus. the author of a bock on the cases says diversity may be harder to achieve.

>> we are on a path now where there is less use of race. it's really just a question of how long it will take until we move completely away from it.

>> reporter: the court's only african- american justice , clarence thomas , a foe of affirmative action . it stamps minority with a badge of inferiority.

>> the big-ticket rulings we're waiting.

>> the challenge to prop 8 in california and the federal defense of marriage act . and the test of the voting rights act , most important civil rights law ever passed.

>> pete williamses at the court,