Posted on July 16, 2014

Race in Admissions at the U. of Texas: How We Got Here, and What’s Next

Chronicle of Higher Education, July 15, 2014

A divided federal appeals court on Tuesday handed a win to supporters of affirmative action when it upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy, but the decision will not end the wrangling over colleges’ consideration of race in admissions. The Texas dispute has a long legal history. What follows is a guide to key moments in the case, and a look at what may come next.

2008: An Applicant Challenges Texas’ Policy

Abigail N. Fisher was denied admission to the Austin flagship, and she accused the university of improperly rejecting her because of admissions policies that she said unfairly favored members of minority groups.

2009: Round 1 Goes to Texas

A federal judge in Austin rejected Ms. Fisher’s lawsuit, finding that the university’s policies were narrowly tailored and therefore constitutional. The judge cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld affirmative-action policies at the University of Michigan’s law school.

January 2011: Austin Prevails Again

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the university’s policy, though the judges who ruled relied on sharply differing opinions.


2012: Supreme Court Intervenes

The university had urged the high court not to take up Ms. Fisher’s challenge to its admissions policies, but the justices chose to hear the case anyway, setting the stage for its first consideration of the issue in almost a decade.

2013: Court Says Colleges Must Justify Affirmative Action

In a 7-to-1 ruling, the Supreme Court vacated the decision by the appeals court and turned up the pressure on colleges to prove that they had adequately considered race-neutral admissions policies. The justices sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit, telling the lower court to subject the policy to stricter legal scrutiny.

2014: Another Win for Texas

The appeals court once again upheld Austin’s policy, in a 2-to-1 ruling on Tuesday. {snip}

Looking Ahead: What’s Next?

Edward J. Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, which has supported Ms. Fisher’s suit, called the panel’s ruling “disappointing” but said the outcome was “not unexpected.” He vowed to appeal. As before, judges of the Fifth Circuit could decide to rehear the case, though they do not have to do so, and the case could also once again go before the Supreme Court.