The U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case tomorrow that could impact admissions at the University of Missouri and institutions nationwide.

The Supreme Court of the United States (photo courtesy,

The Court will hear the case of an applicant to the University of Texas who says her application to the University of Texas was rejected because she is white. The case of Abigail Fisher could lead to significant changes, or the throwing out of affirmative action.

University of Missouri Professor of Higher Education Roger Worthington says the Court could also revisit at 2003 ruling that most institutions operate under now.

“The Grutter case against the University of Michigan in 2003 that set forth, or more clearly specified the provisions under which race conscious admissions were allowable in higher education.”

He says outcomes could include “either altering key principles of that earlier decision, supplanting the Grutter decision with a different doctrine rising from the Fisher case or potentially strike down affirmative action altogether.”

Some analysts are predicting the Grutter ruling will be striken down or at least substantially changed. Worthington says there are several reasons to think that, beginning with the makeup of the Court now compared to nine years ago.

“The typical swing justice is Justice (Anthony) Kennedy, who actually has a fairly clear record of ruling not in favor of affirmative action practices, so he’s likely to side with the more conservative justices, where he kind of goes back and forth between siding with the conservative and the more liberal justices on the court in different decisions. Also, with Justice (Elena) Kagan having recused herself, there will not be nine justices ruling on the case, there will only be eight.”

Worthington says with a lingering economic crisis, the nation’s population shifting toward a majority-minority population and what he calls an “eroded” education system, affirmative action is important for how the U.S. performs internationally.

“In my view, a dismantling of affirmative action at this time with that perfect storm of issues in front of us will ultimately become yet another setback for the nation in our effort to regain prominence in the global economic marketplace.”

Worthington says research in recent decades has supported affirmative action. “Higher education in the context of diversity benefits all students. That’s not just the students who are gaining admission based on affirmative action principles, but students who are not benefitting from affirmative action through the admissions process but benefit more broadly from the diversity that occurs through a diverse institution.”

AUDIO:  Mike Lear interviews Professor Roger Worthington, 13:33