Several major Supreme Court rulings were announced this week, the last of the court's term. Here's a recap of the court's decisions on affirmative action in higher education, the Voting Rights Act and gay marriage, and a look at how the rulings will affect Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Affirmative action

The ruling: The high court sent a University of Texas affirmative action case back to a federal appeals court, which had previously decided in favor of the university over Abigail Fisher, a rejected white applicant who sued over the college's policy of taking race into account to select part of its class. The Supreme Court said the lower court hadn't given the university's justification for that practice enough scrutiny.

The impact here: The Supreme Court's opinion doesn't put restrictions on how colleges can consider race in admissions, or answer whether schools need to make changes to how they take race into account. In briefs filed in the case, local colleges had argued that schools should be able to continue to use race as one way to increase student-body diversity. Many local universities consider race as one of many factors in building diversity, and the universities vary in when exactly race comes into account during the admissions process. Philadelphia-area schools expect to continue their current practices for the time being.

Voting Rights Act

The ruling: The Supreme Court held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. That section sets the formula used to determine which states and localities must get approval from the federal government before making any changes to voting procedures.

The impact here: No parts of Pennsylvania or New Jersey need to seek approval for voting-law changes under the current formula. Congress could develop a new formula for deciding which areas need federal monitoring, and areas nationwide that weren't covered under the old data could be included. However, Congress hasn't indicated it's inclined to create another formula.

Same-sex marriage

The ruling: The high court held that the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denies benefits to legally wed same-sex couples is unconstitutional. The court also ruled that the backers of California's Proposition 8 didn't have standing to challenge lower-court rulings about the 2008 ballot initiative that banned gay marriage in the state.

The impact here: Pennsylvania and New Jersey don't allow same-sex marriage, so couples here can't become eligible for the benefits that were previously denied under DOMA. What's unknown is what will happen to same-sex couples who wed in a state that allows gay marriage, then move to a state that doesn't recognize their nuptials. Many advocates and experts think that issue will be the subject of future lawsuits. The federal government could also make some benefits dependent on the state where the couple was married, rather than the pair's current state of residence. The high court's rulings could also provide momentum for court challenges to the two states' marriage laws, or for new marriage bills to move forward in the state legislatures. Two Pennsylvania state representatives say they are introducing a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, while gay-rights advocates in New Jersey are divided about whether to turn to the statehouse or the courts for their next steps.

Contact Emily Babay at 215-854-2153 or Follow @emilybabay on Twitter.
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