The University of Texas had an admissions policy where it would admit all in-state students who graduated in the top 10% of their high school class. Roughly 75% of the student body was admitted this way. The remaining 25% were admitted pursuant to a holistic analysis that accounts for race.
Fisher, a Caucasian female who was not in the top 10% of her class, applied for undergraduate admission to the University and was rejected.
State universities may use race in making undergraduate admissions decisions, so long as their admissions policy survives strict scrutiny review.
In 1997, the Texas legislature enacted a law requiring the University of Texas to admit all high school seniors who ranked in the top 10% of their high school classes. After finding differences between the racial and ethnic makeup of the university’s undergraduate population and the state’s population, the University altered its admissions policy. Under the new policy, it would continue to admit all in-state students who graduated in the top 10% of their high school class. Roughly 75% of students are admitted based on their high school class rank. The remaining 25% are admitted pursuant to a holistic analysis that takes race into account.
Fisher, a Caucasian female, applied for undergraduate admission to the University. Fisher was not in the top 10% of her class, so she competed for admission with other applicants. She was denied admission.
Fisher brought suit against the University, arguing that its use of race as a consideration in admission decisions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permit the consideration of race in undergraduate admissions decisions?
Yes, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permits the consideration of race in undergraduate admissions decisions.
Justice Thomas wrote separately to reaffirm his view that a state’s use of race in higher education admissions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause. He opines that the University’s discrimination “stamps blacks and Hispanics with a badge of inferiority. Although most blacks and Hispanics attending the University were admitted without discrimination under the current top 10% admissions plan, no one can distinguish those students from the ones whose race played a role in their admission.”
A generic statement of interest in “the educational benefits of diversity” is not a compelling state interest under the strict scrutiny standard. Even if it were, the University’s admission plan still fails strict scrutiny because it is not narrowly tailored. There is no evidence that race-blind review would not achieve the University’s goals at least about as well as its race-based policy. Additionally, the University could’ve adopted other approaches to further its goals, such as intensifying its outreach efforts, uncapping the current top 10% plan or placing greater weight on socioeconomic factors. The fact that the University’s racial preferences are unnecessary to achieve its stated goals is further demonstrated by their minimal effect on the University’s diversity.
Based on judicial precedent, the Court has held that such cases regarding state university admissions policies that factor in race are reviewable under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that they must be reviewed under a standard of strict scrutiny. Under this standard, the state must show that the policies are narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest. If the policy does not meet this standard, race may not be considered in the admissions process. Diversity is such a compelling state interest. Additionally, the state has shown that its admissions policy is narrowly tailored to achieve this compelling state interest because there are no race-neutral alternatives that would produce the same benefit. The record reflects that the University has tried and failed to increase diversity through enhanced consideration of socioeconomic and other factors.