Fisher v. University of Texas (Fisher II)

136 S. Ct. 2198, 195 L. Ed. 2d 511 (2016)

Quick Summary

Abigail Fisher (plaintiff) contested her rejection from the University of Texas at Austin (defendant), arguing that its admissions policy, which included race as one factor among many for certain applicants, violated her constitutional rights. The dispute centered on whether this race-conscious approach infringed upon the Equal Protection Clause.

The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the university’s policy, reasoning that it met the strict scrutiny standard by being narrowly tailored to achieve educational benefits from diversity without viable race-neutral alternatives. The Court affirmed the use of race in college admissions under these stringent conditions.

Facts of the Case

The University of Texas at Austin (defendant) had an admissions program that considered race as one factor among many in a holistic review process. This program was challenged by Abigail Fisher (plaintiff), who claimed her rejection from the university was due to her race, arguing this violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The university had modified its admissions policy in response to a previous court ruling that deemed its practices unconstitutional. This led to the implementation of the Top Ten Percent Law, which guaranteed automatic admission to top students from Texas high schools, and later, a supplemental admissions program that included race as a factor for remaining applicants.

Fisher’s lawsuit led to a legal battle over the constitutionality of the University of Texas’s admissions policy, which aimed to further the educational benefits of a diverse student body. The case ascended through the courts, eventually reaching the United States Supreme Court, which had to decide whether the university’s use of race in admissions met the strict scrutiny standard required by the Constitution.

Procedural Posture and History

  1. The Fifth Circuit initially found the University of Texas’s admissions policy unconstitutional due to race consideration.
  2. The Texas legislature responded with the Top Ten Percent Law, leading the university to adopt an additional race-conscious admissions program.
  3. Fisher sued the university, alleging violation of the Equal Protection Clause; the Fifth Circuit upheld the university’s policy.
  4. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for application of strict scrutiny (Fisher I).
  5. On remand, the Fifth Circuit again upheld the admissions policy.
  6. Fisher petitioned for Supreme Court review, which led to Fisher II.

I.R.A.C. Format

Issue

Whether the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions program violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Rule of Law

The Equal Protection Clause requires that any consideration of race in college admissions must withstand strict scrutiny, meaning the university must show that its interest is substantial and constitutionally permissible, and that consideration of race is necessary to achieve that interest without any workable race-neutral alternatives.

Reasoning and Analysis

The Supreme Court affirmed that universities could pursue diversity as part of their educational mission, granting some deference to their academic judgment. The University of Texas at Austin argued that its holistic review process, which considered race as one factor, was essential to achieving a diverse student body and provided educational benefits.

The Court found that Fisher did not present sufficient evidence that she was denied equal treatment based on her race. Moreover, it determined that the university’s admissions process met the strict scrutiny standard because it was narrowly tailored and there were no available and workable race-neutral alternatives to achieve the desired diversity.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion emphasized that while deference is given to a university’s academic judgment, strict scrutiny must still be applied to ensure that racial classifications are necessary and that no race-neutral alternative would suffice. The Court concluded that the University of Texas at Austin’s admissions policy was lawful under this rigorous standard.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court held that the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions program was lawful under the Equal Protection Clause and affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s judgment upholding the policy.

Dissenting Opinions

Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, maintaining his view that a “State’s use of race in higher education admissions decisions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.” Justice Alito also dissented, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, arguing that the majority opinion failed to apply strict scrutiny as required by precedent and improperly deferred to the university’s claims regarding its diversity goals.

Key Takeaways

  1. A university may consider race in admissions if it can demonstrate a compelling interest and pass strict scrutiny.
  2. Judicial deference is given to a university’s academic judgment on diversity but is not absolute when assessing narrow tailoring and necessity of racial classifications.
  3. The University of Texas at Austin’s admissions policy was upheld as it was narrowly tailored to achieve educational benefits from diversity without workable race-neutral alternatives.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What establishes a policy as narrowly tailored under strict scrutiny?

A policy is considered narrowly tailored when it is designed to serve a compelling state interest and addresses the issue with the least restrictive means, avoiding unnecessary impact on other areas. It must not be broader than necessary to achieve its intended goals.

  • For example: A city enacts a curfew targeting a specific area known for late-night disturbances, rather than imposing a city-wide curfew, to minimize disruptions while respecting citizens’ freedoms.

How can an institution demonstrate the absence of workable race-neutral alternatives?

An institution can show the absence of workable race-neutral alternatives by providing evidence that such alternatives have been considered and tried, but they failed to achieve the diversity goals that serve a compelling interest of the institution.

  • For example: A scholarship foundation could document that prior race-neutral scholarship criteria did not result in a diverse group of recipients and adjusting those criteria could undermine the goal of fostering diversity.

In what ways can diversity serve as a compelling interest for an educational institution?

Diversity serves as a compelling interest for educational institutions when it enriches the educational experience, promotes cross-cultural understanding, prepares students for a diverse workforce and society, and helps to break down racial stereotypes.

  • For example: A business school promoting diversity to enhance teamwork skills among students, reflecting the global nature of contemporary business practices.

References

Last updated

Was this case brief helpful?

More Case Briefs in Constitutional Law