NPR Story
3:39 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

UT Affirmative Action Policies Stand in Fisher Ruling

Originally published on Tue July 15, 2014 4:36 pm

In a two to one opinion, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld UT-Austin's affirmative action policies – the subject of Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. You can read the decision here.

In a 2008 case, white student Abigail Fisher was not admitted into the university. She sued, claiming UT had discriminated against her because of her race. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, but the high court remanded the case to the circuit court last year, finding that when the court originally heard the case it didn't apply proper scrutiny to UT's affirmative action policies ­– as it was supposed to under a 2003 affirmative action case.

Read more background on the case here: So What Exactly Happened with Fisher v. University of Texas?

Right now, most of UT Austin’s student body is comprised of students who graduated in the top seven percent of their Texas high school graduating class. But those other students admitted are considered based on a review of other factors: grades, extra curricular activities – and race.

The main question is this: Is it possible for UT to admit a diverse student body without considering race in the admissions process? Or does it need to consider race to make sure it’s admitting a diverse set of students?

According to Judge Patrick Higginbotham, it’s not. In his decision, he says to deny UT Austin’s limited use of race in its search for diversity would “hobble the richness of the educational experience.”

In the dissent, Judge Emilio Garza argues UT did not offer sufficient evidence that would prove that its use of race in admissions is necessary.

In a statement, UT Austin President Bill Powers said the university is pleased with the decision.

"We remain committed to assembling a student body at The University of Texas at Austin that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity while respecting the rights of all students," Powers said in a statement. "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."

Lawyers representing Fisher say they will appeal the decision.

“While disappointing, this opinion was not unexpected based upon the questioning and comments made by the court during our last hearing in November," said Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation. “This panel was proven wrong last year by the Supreme Court and we believe it will be proven wrong once again on appeal.”

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