By Chris Hoenig
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.