UT-Austin’s Admissions Policy Considered by Federal Court

Sent back to the Fifth Circuit in June by the Supreme Court, Fisher is heard again

On November 13, a three-judge panel revisited Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a challenge to race-conscious admissions policies at UT-Austin. The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in June, stressing the need for strict scrutiny in evaluating the admission policies of institutions of higher education.

In this case, Abigail Fisher, a White applicant who was denied admission into UT-Austin, argued that the university has enough diversity and that the diversity can be sustained through race-neutral means. The university disagreed, arguing that it has attempted various race-neutral policies that have resulted in decreased admission of students of color.

Lawyers representing Black and Hispanic students also supported the university in the argument that the benefits of diversity are mutually beneficial and cannot be provided through any race-neutral alternative. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as a legal representative for the case, noted that the declining diversity levels and “the experiences of LDF’s clients…who are current and former UT students, show that although the University of Texas has made great progress in overcoming its legacy of exclusion, it still has far to go in order to fully achieve the benefits of diversity.”

The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice together recently issued guidance on the Court’s June decision in Fisher. The guidance indicated support for race-conscious admissions policies in higher education in order to promote diversity on college campuses. The guidance also emphasizes that the Court’s 7-1 decision in Fisher did not abandon previous legal precedent supporting race-conscious admissions. The Obama administration has further made public statements of support of race-conscious policies.

Bill Powers, president of UT-Austin, issued a statement regarding the recent Fifth Circuit hearing, saying, “As this case has traveled to the U.S. Supreme Court and now back to Austin, our determination to defend our admission policy has not wavered. The University of Texas at Austin has a compelling interest in achieving the educational benefits of a diverse student body. To achieve this aim, our holistic admissions policy is a tool that is necessary, that respects the rights of all our students, and is consistent with the U.S. Constitution.”