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Fisher v. University of Texas

Citation. 136 S. Ct. 2198 (2016)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The petitioner applied for undergraduate admission to the University of Texas but was denied since she was not in the top ten percent of her class. She argues that the University’s approach of taking race as a factor in accepting first year students violates the Equal Protection Clause. The University argues that its approach facilitates the goal of furthering diversity in the university.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The Court will adopt a strict scrutiny when assessing a policy or law that involves racial classification.


Unlike other approaches to college admissions, the University here combines holistic review with a percentage plan. It fills a significant majority of its class through the Top Ten Percent Plan. Under the Plan, up to 75 percent of the places in the first year class are filled and the remaining 25 percent is admitted based on test scores but race is also given weight as a subfactor. There is no dispute that the University has adopted a holistic review with a percentage plan. Because petitioner did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her high school class, she was categorically ineligible for more than three-fourths of the slots in the incoming freshman class.


Does the University’s approach of taking race as a factor in accepting first year students violate the Equal Protection Clause?


No, none of petitioner’s suggested alternatives – nor other proposals considered or discussed in the course of this litigation – have been shown to be available or workable means through which the University could have met its educational goals. The University has thus met its burden of showing that the admissions policy it used at the time it rejected petitioner’s application was narrowly tailored.


Justice Alito

There is no evidence that race-blind, holistic review would not achieve the University’s goals at least about as well as its race-based policy. In addition, it could have adopted other approaches to further its goals, such as intensifying its outreach efforts, uncapping the Top Ten Percent Law, or placing greater weight on socioeconomic factors. Further, its proposed goal of offering educational benefits of diversity is insufficient. The University not only failed to provide any coherent explanation for its asserted need to discriminate on the basis of race, it relied on unsupported racial assumptions.

Justice Thomas

A State’s use of race in higher education admissions decisions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause. That constitutional imperative does not change in the face of a faddish theory that racial discrimination may produce educational benefits.


The University has provided a reasoned, principled explanation for its decision to pursue the educational goals: the use of race-neutral policies and programs had not been successful in providing an educational setting that fosters cross-racial understanding, providing enlightened discussion and learning, or preparing students to function in an increasingly diverse workforce and society. Also, petitioner failed to support the argument that considering race was not necessary because such consideration has had only a minimal impact in advancing the University’s compelling interest. A university is in large part defined by those intangible qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness. Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body university, that are central to its identity and educational mission.

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