In two significant decisions on the last day of its term, the US Supreme Court yesterday made the US government liable for perhaps billions of dollars in damages in a dispute over the savings-and-loan debacle of the 1980s - and, surprised observers by refusing to review one of the most controversial affirmative-action cases in decades.
Earlier this year, the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans ruled that a University of Texas Law School racial admissions policy in 1992 infringed on the rights of a white female applicant who was denied a place at the school.
In a ruling that affects state-run colleges in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, the circuit court said the law school's racial quota system was unconstitutional.
By letting stand the lower court ruling, legal scholars say, the high court has effectively voided, in those three states, the famous 1978 Bakke decision which said that race may play a role in the college admissions process.
In that case, the high court ordered the University of California at Davis to admit Allan Bakke, a white medical student. Mr. Bakke was refused admission to make room for minority students who had lower test scores.
It was widely expected the Supreme Court would hear the Texas petition in October - in order to clarify the law of the land on a much-contested area. In recent years, the high court rulings on race have adopted a "color blind" approach, reversing affirmative action.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice David Souter, agreed that racial and ethnic admissions policy is an "issue of great national importance." But she said the case itself, Texas v. Hopwood, was not the appropriate one for such a far-reaching ruling.
For one thing, the Texas law school policy had been changed since 1992. Instead of relying on a "two-track" policy - one standard for whites, and one standard for persons of color - the school has instituted a new admissions policy that makes race only one factor out of many (the Bakke standard) taken into consideration.
The US Circuit court, in March, ruled against the law school's 1992 quota policy, and in addition said that the new policy of considering race as a factor was inadequate. However, the case of Cheryl Hopwood, the white applicant, covered only the 1992 policy.