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Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Justia Summary

The University of Texas at Austin’s undergraduate admissions system offers admission to all students who graduate in the top 10% of their Texas high school class, as required by the Texas Top Ten Percent Law. It fills the remainder of its freshman class, about 25%, by combining an applicant’s “Academic Index” (SAT score and high school academic performance) with a “Personal Achievement Index,” a holistic review containing numerous factors, including race. The University adopted the system in 2004, after a year-long-study of its admissions process—undertaken following two Supreme Court decisions—led it to conclude that its prior race-neutral system did not reach its goal of providing the educational benefits of diversity. Fisher was denied admission to the 2008 freshman class. She alleged that the University’s consideration of race disadvantaged her and other Caucasian applicants, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. On remand for application of the strict scrutiny standard, the Fifth Circuit again affirmed summary judgment in the University’s favor. The Supreme Court affirmed. The race-conscious admissions program is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause. The compelling interest that justifies consideration of race in college admissions is not an interest in enrolling a certain number of minority students, but an interest in obtaining “the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity.” The University articulated concrete and precise goals—e.g., ending stereotypes, promoting “cross-racial understanding,” preparing students for “an increasingly diverse workforce and society,” and cultivating leaders with “legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry” and gave a “reasoned, principled explanation” for its decision. The University’s conclusion that race-neutral programs had not achieved its diversity goals was supported by significant statistical and anecdotal evidence, while consideration of race has had a meaningful, but limited, effect on freshman class diversity. That race consciousness played a role in a small portion of admissions decisions is a hallmark of narrow tailoring, not evidence of unconstitutionality. The Top Ten Percent Plan had more of an impact on Fisher’s chances of admission. The Court noted the University’s continuing obligation to satisfy the strict scrutiny burden by periodically reassessing the program and by tailoring it to ensure that race plays no greater role than necessary to meet its compelling interests.

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