Justice Elena Kagan withdrew from consideration of the case. She was U.S. solicitor general in 2010 when her office filed a brief in the dispute.
More than three-fourths of freshmen enroll at the Austin school under a state law that gives automatic admission to students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. For the remainder, the school considers a number of factors, including race.
Two white students denied UT admission under the policy challenged it in federal court.
A three-judge appellate panel upheld the admissions policy, and the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, refused to rehear the case by a vote of 9-7. The majority said UT's admissions program was "narrowly tailored," as required by a 2003 Supreme Court precedent.
The Texas Parte law blog reported one of the circuit dissenters, Chief Judge Edith H. Jones, said the panel's decision "gives a green light to all public higher education institutions in this circuit, and perhaps beyond, to administer racially conscious admissions programs without following the narrow tailoring that (Supreme Court precedent) requires. Texas today is increasingly diverse in ways that transcend the crude white/black/Hispanic calculus that is the measure of the university's race conscious admissions program."
The case accepted by the high court was brought by one of the two white students, Abigail Fisher, who applied to the school in 2008. Fisher was not entitled to admission under the Top 10 Percent Law, but her academic credentials exceeded many of those non-Top 10 students who were accepted, her petition said.