The University of Texas at Austin filed its brief before the U.S. Supreme Court Aug. 6 in the case that has led to affirmative action discussion and court decisions stemming from a 2008 lawsuit filed by Abigail Fisher. Fisher, a white applicant, sued Texas’ largest university for admissions practices that she said prioritized prospective students’ race rather than merit.
Since the case began, Fisher’s lawyers argued that the university was not in compliance with a 2003 Supreme Court decision that allowed for race-conscious admissions – or race as a factor, but not the sole factor – when used to “promote campus diversity.” In 2009, a court narrowly upheld the university’s admissions policies. A federal appellate court in 2011 also sided with the university.
In February, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, as the university stood by its admissions policies, calling them “holistic” and “narrowly tailored to achieve the educational benefits of a diverse student body.”
In May, Fisher’s attorneys argued that if the university is in compliance with the Court’s 2003 race-conscious admissions ruling, the ruling should be overturned.
The university’s brief describes in detail its efforts to promote diversity, its 2004 proposal to consider race, its “holistic review process” and Fisher’s admissions application. In short, the university believes its admissions policy is a “model” of court-approved admissions policies; Fisher’s attorneys failed to explain how the university’s policy didn’t comply with the court ruling, so have been “forced to wage a challenge at odds with existing precedent;” and there is no basis to reconsider or overrule the existing court precedent.
The university also addresses the state’s “Top 10% Law,” which grants automatic admission to any state school to students who graduated in the top 10% of their high school class. Fisher was not in the top 10% of her class, so her application was considered under the school’s holistic review process. She scored an 1180 out of 1600 on her SAT and had a 3.59 high school grade point average, neither of which placed her high enough on the school’s admissions points scale to be admitted to the school or to its (now discontinued) summer program.
One black student and four Hispanic students with lower combined admissions scores were admitted to the summer program, as were 42 white applicants with identical or lower scores, the brief states. Additionally, 168 black and Hispanic applicants with higher scores were denied admission to the summer program. That evidence perhaps leads to many more questions about the school’s admissions policies, but serves as proof, UT states in its brief, that race is not used as the sole factor in admissions.
Denied admission to UT in 2008, Fisher enrolled at Louisiana State University, from which she graduated in May.
Arguments will be heard in the case this fall.
Follow Anna Schumann on Twitter at @ASchumannCMN.