What’s At Stake: Fisher v. University of Texas
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that could determine whether public colleges and universities can consider race as one of many factors when making admission decisions.
Here are the key points of the case, and some possible implications for young people of color:
- Plaintiff Abigail Noel Fisher alleges that the University of Texas–Austin discriminated against her based on her race by not admitting her to the university in 2008. A white female, Fisher hopes to annul race consideration in university admissions policies by overturning the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, citing the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in her defense.
- If the Court rules in favor of Fisher and overturns Grutter v. Bollinger, the repercussions could be substantial. As the Supreme Court begins its new term, the reconsideration of these racial equal opportunity efforts may be a signal that conservative justices intend to end the consideration of race in institutions of higher education. According to a recent New York Times article, there is nonpartisan concurrence that rescinding these equality measures could "reduce the number of African-American and Latino students at nearly every selective college and graduate school, with more Asian-American and white students gaining entrance instead."
- In 2009, the a district court judge upheld the University of Texas' admission policy, citing the Grutter v. Bollinger case, and a Fifth Circuit panel agreed in 2011.
- The Supreme Court already set a precedent in 2003, when the high court upheld equal opportunity-based admissions in Grutter v. Bollinger case, in response to the University of Michigan Law School's 1996 denial of Barbara Grutter, a white Michigan resident with a 3.8 GPA and a 161 LSAT score. Reflecting on the landmark decision, former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that the Constitution "does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body."
- In Fisher's case, the University of Texas–Austin automatically accepts all students in the top 10 percent of graduating classes from Texas high schools, regardless of race, according to the state's Top Ten Percent Plan. Fisher fell short of the top 10 percent at her high school and was therefore grouped with a larger mass of students whose admission considered academic achievement as well as family makeup and race.
If the Court’s rules out racial consideration in higher education admissions, it could be detrimental to efforts to create a more diverse, highly educated American workforce.
Jennifer Hicks is a Communications Intern for Campus Progress.