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.
The Court will adopt a strict scrutiny when assessing a policy or law that involves racial classification.
The University of Texas 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.
Does the University’s approach of taking race as a factor in accepting first year students violate the Equal Protection Clause?
No, a university may take race as a factor in accepting incoming students, but such an approach or policy must be reviewed under the strict scrutiny. A university may institute a race-conscious admissions program as a means of obtaining the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity. However, the university’s goal cannot be elusory or amorphous. They must be sufficiently measurable to permit judicial scrutiny of the policies adopted to reach them.
The University has failed to show that its use of race in making admissions decisions serves compelling interests and that its plan is narrowly tailored to achieve those goals. The University did not specifically identify the interests that its use of race is supposed to serve. 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.
The University’s record reveals that in setting forth its current admissions policy, the University articulated concrete and precise goals. It identified the educational values it seeks to realize through its admission process such as the elimination of stereotypes, the promotion of cross-racial understanding, and the diversification of workforce and society. It also explained that it offers an academic environment that provides a robust exchange of ideas and exposure to differing cultures. Because it provided a reasoned, principled explanation for its decision to pursue these goals, the University has met the heavy burden of showing legitimate interests in adopting the policy.