Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: June 23, 2016
  • Case #: 14–981
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS, J., joined. KAGAN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

Affirmative-action admission policies at public universities may be permissible under the Equal Protection Clause, because promoting racial diversity in student bodies and classrooms is a compelling state interest, but schools have an ongoing obligation to refine the management their admission policies to ensure that equal protection violations are not occurring as demographics change.

The Court reviewed University of Texas at Austin’s (“Respondent”) affirmative-action admissions policy, which considered race as one aspect (“a factor of a factor of a factor”) of the “special circumstances” that each applicant would contribute to Respondent’s student body. Petitioner argued that the policy placed Caucasian applicants at a disadvantage, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The Supreme Court previously vacated a judgment dismissing Petitioner’s claim and remanded to the Fifth Circuit to apply a three principled assessment of the policy, stating: (1) strict scrutiny applies; (2) deference is given to the University if the policy “is, in substantial measure, an academic judgment,” and; (3) “no deference is owed when determining whether the use of race is narrowly tailored to achieve the university’s permissible goals.” See Fisher v. University of Tex. at Austin (“Fisher I”). After the Fifth Circuit upheld Respondent's admissions policy, the Supreme Court applied the principles set forth in Fisher I and held that Respondent’s policy was an academic judgment and served a compelling state interest, because it promoted “cross-racial understanding” for students by exposing them to different cultures and ideas, and prepared them to function in a diverse workforce. The Court noted that "significant statistical and anecdotal evidence,” including an increase in the percentage of minority students, indicated that the policy promoted diversity, and the alternative plans presented in the course of the litigation were not “available” or “workable.” The Court found that Respondent’s prior race-neutral policies did not achieve “sufficient racial diversity,” but cautioned that data and evidence must be evaluated on a continuing basis to ensure affirmative-action is necessary to achieve diversity. The Court ultimately held that Respondent met its burden under strict scrutiny review and the Court upheld the policy. AFFIRMED

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