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Court Upholds Race in College Admissions

In a case returned by the Supreme Court, a Texas court has again ruled that race can be used as a consideration in college admissions.

By Chris Hoenig

Court rules again on use of race in college admissions.After the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back for further scrutiny, a federal appeals court in Texas has again upheld the use of race as a consideration in college admissions.

Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas at Austin after her admissions application was rejected in 2008, alleging that she was discriminated against because she’s white. Her anti-Affirmative Action lawsuit made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of the university. The Supreme Court, in a 7-1 ruling, said that race was still an applicable factor in admissions, but only if used in a narrow way.

“The reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Supreme Court decision, which ordered Fisher’s case back to the appeals court for reconsideration.

But the appeals-court justices said legal precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court and the narrow use of race made UT’s admissions criteria legal. “We are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience in contradiction of the plain teachings of Bakke and Grutter,” Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham wrote in the majority opinion. “UT Austin has demonstrated a permissible goal of achieving the educational benefits of diversity within that university’s distinct mission, not seeking a percentage of minority students that reaches some arbitrary size.”

The university only uses race as a narrow criteria for admission because of the state’s “Top Ten Percent Plan,” which guarantees admission to state colleges for students who finish in the top 10 percent of their high-school class. Because Texas schools are largely segregated, the plan creates a diverse pool of guaranteed-admission students.

“While the Top Ten Percent Plan boosts minority enrollment by skimming from the tops of Texas high schools, it does so against this backdrop of increasing resegregation in Texas public schools, where over half of Hispanic students and 40 percent of black students attend a school with 90 percent–100 percent minority enrollment,” the judges wrote.

The decision was welcomed by the University of Texas’ administration.

“This ruling ensures that our campus, our state and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events and in all aspects of campus life,” President William C. Powers Jr. said.

Fisher, who has since graduated from Louisiana State University, said she will again appeal.

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3 comments


  • The dissenting judge in this case shows why it this case will be successfully appealed at the scotus.

    In his dissent, Judge Emilio Garza wrote that while the university has said it is seeking to achieve a “critical mass” of diversity, it “has failed to define this term in any objective manner.” Thus it is impossible to substantiate whether the school’s use of preferences is narrowly tailored or not.
    “By holding that the University’s use of racial classifications is narrowly tailored, the majority continues to defer impermissibly to the University’s claims,” Judge Garza writes, “This deference is squarely at odds with the central lesson of Fisher.”

  • Its interesting that Fisher went on to graduate from Louisiana State University. It seems UT’s decision has not affected her ability to attend university. Many of the kids who are accepted into UT with the “top 10%” would not have the ability to go to non-state schools, or out of state schools. I graduated from UT and indeed, the school needs to work hard to ensure there is diversity in the student body.

    Many people wish to ignore the inequality that still exists in our schools today. I grew up in Houston and was “bused in” to my middle school and high school as i attended magnet and IB programs. Without that legislation, I would have had to go to my local school and i feel i would have been much less prepared for college.

    Thank goodness the ruling has been held up.

  • It will be interesting to see if Higginbotham’s ruling is successful in holding back the SCOTUS from overrulling its own precedents.

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