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Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Why the Supreme Court Needs to Uphold UT Austin’s Admissions Plan

On Wednesday, October 10, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of UT Austin’s undergraduate affirmative-action admissions program. The vast majority of students are admitted under the state’s Top Ten Percent Plan, which requires UT Austin to admit all Texas residents who rank in the top ten percent of their high-school graduating classes. The University also admits a small percentage of its students through a separate process that involves careful, holistic review of all aspects of an applicant’s qualifications, including such things as leadership experience, special talents, work experience, community service, languages spoken at home, family responsibilities, extracurricular activities, and race. It is this modest consideration of race as part of a holistic review that is before the Supreme Court.

Less than ten years ago, in its review of the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions plan, the Supreme Court outlined the many benefits of diversity in higher education. The Court recognized that racially diverse educational environments reduce stereotypes by exposing students to diverse individuals. That diversity helps students encounter a wide range of ideas and experiences, which improve the quality of the education that they receive and help prepare them to be leaders in an increasingly diverse society. Historically, affirmative-action policies have promoted not only racial but also gender diversity, helping eliminate barriers to women’s entrance into historically male-dominated fields such as engineering and computer science. And many educational institutions, and many state universities in particular, have come to value the benefits of diversity as being critical to the educational mission of cultivating civic, government and business leaders. Read more »

Supreme Court Term Begins Today: Why Women Are Watching

Today, the Supreme Court heard the first arguments of the 2012-13 Term. A number of cases that the Court will review this Term could have a significant impact on women’s legal rights.

This Term, the Court’s review of affirmative action policies in state university admissions presents a troubling opportunity to turn back the clock, particularly given that Justice O’Connor, a key vote in the Court’s 2003 decision upholding affirmative action in admissions (and its author), has since left the Court. In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the University of Texas’s undergraduate admissions policy, which uses race as one of multiple factors in making admissions decisions, was constitutional under the Supreme Court’s aforementioned 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.  Affirmative action policies intended to promote not only racial but also gender diversity are particularly necessary in vocational and higher education—for example, by eliminating barriers to women’s entrance into historically male-dominated fields, such as engineering and computer science. The Center submitted an amicus brief in support of the University of Texas, explaining that an educational experience in a diverse community of learners can dispel both race and gender stereotypes, which are often intertwined, and that this diversity is essential to preparing students to succeed as leaders in communities and businesses. Fisher will be argued next Wednesday. Read more »