Brief Fact Summary.
Fisher (Plaintiff) was a white applicant to the University of Texas (Defendant). When he was denied admission he sued, claiming that admission policies that used race as a factor violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Courts should review state university admissions policies that use race as a factor under the strict scrutiny standard.
Defendant used race as a factor in its admissions policies in order to increase the enrollment of racial minorities and create greater diversity in the student body. Additionally, Texas enacted a Top Ten Percent Law granted automatic admission to any public state college, including Defendant, to all students who finished in the top ten percent of their class in Texas high schools that met certain requirements. This law as also intended to increase diversity at Defendant university. Plaintiff, a white applicant to Defendant who was denied admission, sued Defendant. Plaintiff claimed that Defendant’s admission policies violated the Equal Protection Clause. The court of appeals found for Defendant and upheld the policies. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.
Should courts review state university admissions policies that use race as a factor under the strict scrutiny standard?
(Kennedy, J.) Yes. Courts should review state university admissions policies that use race as a factor under the strict scrutiny standard. Under this standard, the state must show that the policy is narrowly tailored to address a compelling state interest. Diversity is such a compelling state interest, but Defendant must show that the admissions process evaluates each applicant as an individual and without treating an applicant’s race or ethnicity as the defining characteristic. To be narrowly tailored, the policy must be necessary to achieve the compelling interest of diversity and there must be no race-neutral alternative that would produce the same benefit. The appellate court below did not apply the appropriate standard of review, but instead deferred to Defendant on the matter of whether the policy was narrowly tailored and whether race-neutral alternatives existed. Reversed and remanded.
(Ginsburg, J.) Defendant’s purpose is supported by the holding in Grutter. In achieving this legitimate purpose, the school followed the model approved in that case. Contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, race-neutral policies combined with the Top Ten Percent Law are not enough to achieve diversity. The proposed race-neutral policies are not really race unconscious. If universities cannot explicitly make race a factor, many may resort to pretense to maintain their minority enrollments. It is better to have the schools honestly reveal their policies. This case should be affirmed.
(Scalia, J.) Defendant did not ask this Court to overrule the holding in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) which found diversity to be a compelling state interest. Notwithstanding this precedent, governmental discrimination based on race is a violation of the Constitution.
(Thomas, J.) Grutter should be overruled entirely. A state’s use of race in admissions decisions is prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause. Segregationists used to argue that segregation provided educational benefits. The arguments advanced by Defendant are the same as the segregationists’ were. Racial discrimination, no matter the form, is never benign. The fact that Defendant’s intentions are good does not excuse racial discrimination any more than the good intentions of the segregationists did. Those denied entry under a race-based admission system are harmed, but those admitted are harmed even more since they are less prepared for higher education than the students who would have otherwise been admitted.
Justice Thomas’s view of affirmative action is that the program acts as a boost for minority students who would otherwise not be qualified for admission, and therefore might not perform as well as their classmates. Others view affirmative action as an anti-discrimination effort to include minorities in preferred positions in society from which they have historically been excluded, despite being qualified to fill them. Justice Thomas’s view seems to stereotype African American students at top universities as unqualified, regardless of their actual qualifications and merit.