The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed yesterday the Fifth Circuit’s decision upholding the race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas as constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.
For the second time in three years, the Supreme Court reviewed Abigail Fisher’s challenge to the University of Texas’s holistic admissions policy. The university’s admissions system is unique in that most of its undergraduates are admitted through the state’s Top Ten Percent law, which admits any student graduating from a Texas high school in the top 10 percent of their class. The remaining offers of admission are determined through a combination of an applicant’s Academic Index (SAT scores and high school academic performance) and Personal Achievement Index (a holistic review of several factors including race).
“Today’s decision affirms that the pursuit of racial diversity among our nation’s colleges and universities remains an important goal in our democracy,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The Court’s ruling recognizes that the narrowly tailored and well-constructed race-conscious admissions plan utilized by the University of Texas satisfies strict scrutiny. At a time when college students across the country are demanding that their administrators do more to address the legacy of discrimination on campuses, the Court’s ruling underscores the importance of pursuing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion.”
In today’s 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court confirms that pursuing the educational benefits of diversity remains a compelling state interest. The university’s consideration of race as one of many factors involved in the evaluation of candidates was found to be sufficiently narrowly tailored because it articulated measurable and concrete goals, such as ending stereotypes and preparing students for a diverse workforce. The Supreme Court recognized that the “University of Texas at Austin has a special opportunity to learn and to teach” and noted that the school “now has at its disposal valuable data about the manner in which different approaches to admissions may foster diversity or instead dilute it.” The ruling makes clear that such plans satisfy the scrutiny of the Court and should be subject to a continual process of evaluation to ensure their effectiveness.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) has a long history of supporting higher education admissions practices which offer equitable educational opportunities to all students. The Lawyers’ Committee submitted an amicus brief in this case in support of the University which emphasized the importance of racial diversity on college campuses.
Considerable research shows that race-neutral admissions policies would fail to achieve meaningful levels of racial diversity at the University of Texas. Racial diversity, especially in the classroom setting, is critical in today’s global economy and increasingly interconnected world. Exposure to diversity builds creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. It also diminishes implicit and explicit biases among people of differences in communities, schools, and the criminal justice system.
“One need look no further than some of the recent unrest on our college campuses across the county for a reminder that race continues to have relevance in today’s society,” observed Brenda Shum, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee. “Today’s decision reinforces a growing body of research that shows that positive campus racial climate is essential to realizing the educational benefits of diversity on campus. We appreciate and support the university’s ongoing efforts to attend to the historical legacy of exclusion that has shaped its campus climate through its nuanced admissions policies which include race as one of many factors.”