On June 29, 2016, a young white woman named Abigail Noel Fisher lost her long-fought case against the University of Texas at Austin (Fisher v University of Texas at Austin, 539 US 306):
It [the 2016 Fisher Supreme Court Case ruling] was really disappointing, honestly, but it's a long battle and if this case doesn't end affirmative action, then another case will. (Abigail Fisher, quoted in Edwards, 2016)
In the case and in the media surrounding it, she claimed the university's race-conscious undergraduate admissions policy had discriminated against her and others based on race. The university disagreed and viewed the policy as necessary to ensure a diverse campus. The Supreme Court sided with the university. The 4–3 ruling in support of the university's use of affirmative action in admissions came after almost eight years of challenges by Fisher and her legal representatives. The case was, in fact, argued in front of the Supreme Court not just once, but twice. Before ultimately ruling in favor of the university in 2016 (Fisher II), the Court remanded the case back to a lower court in 2013 (Fisher I).
The Fisher case became a lightning rod for debates in the US surrounding affirmative action, higher education, and race relations. With a conservative-leaning Supreme Court and lagging support among whites, many political pundits predicted that the end of affirmative action in higher education had arrived. However, the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who came out publicly against affirmative action, and the recusal of Justice Elena Kagan, who served as US Solicitor General and authored an amicus brief in support of affirmative action in the Fisher case when it was pending in the US Court of Appeals, created uncertainty leading up to the 2016 ruling. Nonetheless, a shorthanded court that continued to lean to the Right surprised many and upheld the controversial policy. Affirmative action, as implemented in higher education, would receive a stay of execution at least until the next highprofile case came along:
Sooner or later, affirmative action will die a natural death. Its achievements have been stupendous, but if we look at the premises that underlie it, we find assumptions and priorities that look increasingly shopworn. (R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr, 1990)