Update July 24: The Supreme Court sent a challenge to the University of Texas' affirmative action admissions process back to a lower court.
The compromise ruling throws out the decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Texas admission plan.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said the appeals court did not test the Texas plan under the most exacting level of judicial review. He said such a test is required by the court's 2003 decision upholding affirmative action in higher education.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissenter.
Next week the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision on the constitutionality of race-based admissions policies at public universities. It will be the latest ruling in a long history of challenges to various affirmative action efforts. Specifically, the court will determine whether the goal of greater racial diversity on campus justifies preferential treatment for minority applicants.
Abigail Fisher, a white honors student who was rejected from the University of Texas in 2008, didn't think so. She sued the school, claiming that its race-conscious admissions policy unfairly favored black and Hispanic applicants over whites and Asians. She said:
"There were people in my class with lower grades who weren't in all the activities I was in who were being accepted into UT, and the only difference between us was the color of our skin... For an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me."
The case came before the Supreme Court last October. The court's upcoming ruling could have broad implications for universities and employers around the country.
Scroll through the timeline below for a history of game-changing events in the evolution of affirmative action.