Supreme Court Urged to Uphold U. of Texas’s Use of Race to Advance Diversity
Yesterday, Lambda Legal joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and other allied organizations to file a friend-of-the-court brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case challenging the use of race in undergraduate admissions decisions. The brief argues that the University of Texas at Austin’s use of race in undergraduate admissions decisions is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause. Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP is lead counsel on the brief.
“In the years since the Supreme Court’s 2003 Grutter decision, racial and ethnic disparities have persisted in our nation, in such areas as education, employment, criminal justice and healthcare. Our nation’s public universities continue to have a compelling interest in ensuring the diversity of their student bodies,” said Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal Director of Constitutional Litigation. “The University of Texas at Austin’s use of race in undergraduate admissions decisions is lawful under the Supreme Court’s equal protection precedents. Public universities should be able to consider race and ethnicity as one factor in an individualized assessment of the contributions applicants can bring to student life and educational experience.”
Under the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) admissions policy, Texas students in the top 10% of their high school class are guaranteed admission to the university. This cohort of admitted students accounts for approximately 80-90% of admitted students. To fill remaining seats, UT uses a relatively complex set of indices in which race may be considered as one of a number of factors in an individualized, holistic assessment of a student’s application. Abigail Fisher, a white Texas student denied admission to UT in 2008, brought this challenge to UT’s use of race in its admissions decisions. Both the U.S. District Court in Texas and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the university’s policy as constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court accepted review of the case and will consider whether its precedents interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permit UT’s use of race as a factor in undergraduate admissions decisions.
The brief argues that racial and ethnic disparities persist in our nation, in such areas as education, employment, criminal justice and healthcare. Especially given these disparities, students from varying backgrounds bring differing life experiences and perspectives to educational settings. Meaningful interactions among students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds — not just the presence of some arbitrary number of minority students on a campus — yield important educational benefits for everyone. These benefits include improved classroom experiences and learning outcomes, and better preparation for work and civic engagement later on. Universities should be accorded a degree of latitude to make fine-grained, nuanced admissions evaluations that further educational judgments about the importance of promoting cross-racial interactions on campus.
Counsel of record for amici curiae is Bradley S. Phillips of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation, is handling this matter for Lambda Legal.