Today, the United States Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments for an affirmative action case brought on by a 2008 lawsuit by two women who were not admitted into the University of Texas at Austin, the state’s largest and most competitive public university. The lawsuit was filed by Abigail Noel Fisher and Rachel Multer Michalewicz, both Texas residents, who believe they were denied admission to the school because of their race. They made clear in their filings with lower courts that they believe they would have been admitted if they were not white.
It will be the first time the Court addresses race in college admissions since 2003, when it addressed law school admissions at the University of Michigan. While the Court adheres to its prior rulings, the ultimate question presented is whether or not UT’s use of race in undergraduate admissions decisions is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
The Fisher case is especially complicated because of laws in Texas that specifically apply to how students may be admitted—particularly top students, and particularly students seeking admission to UT.
Here’s a look at how the case developed.
1998-The State of Texas implements a law, passed in 1997, commonly referred to as the “Top 10% Rule” that states any student who graduates from the top 10% of his high school graduating class will be granted automatic admission into all state universities. The intent was to create racial and economic diversity in the state’s most competitive schools.
June 23, 2003- The U.S. Supreme Court issues its opinion in Grutter vs Bollinger. The court addressed the constitutionality of the University of Michigan law school’s admissions process and whether or not the school’s race-conscious admissions policy was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Lower courts said the school’s policy was unlawful; an appellate court reversed the judgment, and the case headed to the Supreme Court. The Court decided, five to four, that the school had “a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body” and that its admissions process was “narrowly tailored to serve its compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body,” and was therefore not in violation of the clause.
May 21, 2008- UT seals records pertinent to the case, in response to the lawsuit filed by Fisher and Michalewicz.
June 19, 2009- Texas Legislature passes a bill that states UT, while it must follow the Top 10% rule, must only follow it to admit 75% of its incoming class. Should the number of applicants who would meet admission criteria based on the rule exceed 75% of the class, UT may elect not to admit each qualified applicant, but instead admit students starting with the top percentile and working down—essentially meaning it lets in only students who were in the top 7% or top 8% in their graduating class, rather than the top 10%. The law went into effect for the admissions cycle for the 2011-2012 academic year.
Aug. 17, 2009- Western District of Texas of the United States District Court grants a summary judgment, sides with UT, and finds its consideration of race in admissions legal and in keeping with the U.S. Supreme Court’s prior rulings.
Sept. 14, 2009- Fisher and Michalewicz file an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Jan. 18, 2011- The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issues an opinion affirming “the constitutionality of the University’s program as it existed when (Fisher and Michalewicz) were denied admission.” A subsequent opinion released Feb. 1 went into greater detail.
Sept. 15, 2011- A petition to hear the case is filed with the Supreme Court.
Oct. 2011- Aug. 2012- Amici Curiae or “Friends of the Court” briefs are filed with Supreme Court, from schools and organizations including University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Fordham University, Harvard Graduate School of Education Students for Diversity, American Association for Affirmative Action, Human Rights Activists, Teach for America, The American Council on Education, and the United States. Many more briefs were filed on behalf of UT than were filed in agreement with Fisher. The United States sides with UT.
Feb. 21, 2012- Supreme Court agrees to hear the case.
May 2012- Abigail Fisher graduates from Louisiana State University. Michalewicz ceased to be listed as a plaintiff in legal documents leading up to the Supreme Court case.
May 23, 2012- Fisher attorneys ask the court to repeal race-conscious admissions. While in lower courts the student’s lawyers argued that UT was not in compliance with the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision, lawyers argue instead that UT may be in compliance with the ruling, and that that ruling should be overturned.
Aug. 6, 2012- UT files its brief with the Supreme Court, defending its admissions policies and releasing the details of Fisher’s application and how it was assessed and compared to those of other applicants.