Law School Case Brief
Fisher v. Univ. of Tex. - 136 S. Ct. 2198 (2016)
The compelling interest that justifies consideration of race in college admissions is not an interest in enrolling a certain number of minority students. Rather, a university may institute a race-conscious admissions program as a means of obtaining the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity. Enrolling a diverse student body promotes cross-racial understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races. Equally important, student body diversity promotes learning outcomes, and better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society. Increasing minority enrollment may be instrumental to these educational benefits, but it is not a goal that can or should be reduced to pure numbers. On the other hand, asserting an interest in the educational benefits of diversity writ large is insufficient. A university’s goals cannot be elusory or amorphous — they must be sufficiently measurable to permit judicial scrutiny of the policies adopted to reach them.
The University of Texas at Austin (University) uses an undergraduate admissions system containing two components. First, as required by the State's Top Ten Percent Law, it offers admission to any students who graduate from a Texas high school in the top 10% of their class. It then fills the remainder of its incoming freshman class, some 25% on a holistic review containing numerous factors, including race. Petitioner Fisher, who was not in the top 10% of her high school class, was denied admission to the University's 2008 freshman class. She filed suit, alleging that the University's consideration of race as part of its holistic-review process disadvantaged her and other Caucasian applicants, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The District Court entered summary judgment in the University's favor. On appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the District Court's decision. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Does the use of an admissions policy that considered race as part of a holistic-review process violated the Equal Protection Clause ?
The Court held that therace-conscious admissions program in use at the time of petitioner's application is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause. A university is in large part defined by those intangible qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness. Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission. But still, it remains an enduring challenge to the Nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity. In striking this sensitive balance, public universities, like the States themselves, can serve as laboratories for experimentation. A university must continue to use data to scrutinize the fairness of its admissions program; to assess whether changing demographics have undermined the need for a race-conscious policy; and to identify the effects, both positive and negative, of the affirmative-action measures it deems necessary. It is the university’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies.
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