Supreme Court upholds University of Texas Affirmative Action program

The US Supreme Court issued an opinion today that rejected the claim by Abigail Fisher that she had been denied admission to the University of Texas because she was white, thus ending an eight-year long saga in which her case twice went to the high court. The ruling was 4-3 with justice Elena Kagan recusing herself because of her prior involvement with the case while she was Solicitor General. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined with justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer in the majority opinion.

Nikole Hannah-Jones of ProPublica writes about what the case was all about and why it came up twice.

In 2013, the Court ruled narrowly on the case, requiring the federal appeals court that had ruled against the woman, Abigail Fisher, to re-examine her arguments. Last year, the appeals court again decided against Fisher, affirming that race could be one of the factors considered in trying to diversify the student body at the university.

Opponents of affirmative action hoped that this case would roll back the advances that minorities have made by exploiting white resentment.

In 23-year-old Abigail Noel Fisher they’ve put forward their version of the perfect plaintiff to challenge the use of race in college admissions decisions.

Publicly, Fisher and her supporters, chief among them the conservative activist who conceived of the case, have worked to make Fisher the symbol of racial victimization in modern America. As their narratives goes, she did everything right. She worked hard, received good grades, and rounded out her high school years with an array of extracurricular activities. But she was cheated, they say, her dream snatched away by a university that closed its doors to her because she had been born the wrong color: White.

Except there’s a problem. The claim that race cost Fisher her spot at the University of Texas isn’t really true.

In the hundreds of pages of legal filings, Fisher’s lawyers spend almost no time arguing that Fisher would have gotten into the university but for her race.

She and other applicants who did not make the cut were evaluated based on two scores. One allotted points for grades and test scores. The other, called a personal achievement index, awarded points for two required essays, leadership, activities, service and “special circumstances.” Those included socioeconomic status of the student or the student’s school, coming from a home with a single parent or one where English wasn’t spoken. And race.

Those two scores, combined, determine admission.

Even among those students, Fisher did not particularly stand out. Court records show her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores (1180 out of 1600) were good but not great for the highly selective flagship university. The school’s rejection rate that year for the remaining 841 openings was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard.

As a result, university officials claim in court filings that even if Fisher received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor, the letter she received in the mail still would have said no.

The majority ruled that Fisher had not shown that she was denied equal treatment and rejected because of her race and that the university’s method of selection to achieve a suitably diverse body was constitutional, that a completely race-neutral method would not achieve its goals, and that there were no other means available of achieving them. You can read the opinions here.


  1. Crimson Clupeidae says

    I think this is one of those cases where reading the minority opinion is going to be very enlightening (not in a good way, I suspect). Bookmarked for later reading. Thanks.

  2. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I hope they didn’t take the weasel way out of merely invoking “lack of standing”, which your quote hints at.

  3. Mano Singham says

    EL @#2,

    No, they gave a substantive ruling in favor of the affirmative action plan of the university.

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