24 June 2013

Law in Plain English: Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Any Texas resident who graduates from high school in the top ten percent of their class is automatically admitted to the University of Texas (the "Top Ten Percent Plan"). The remaining spots are filled by students based on a number of other factors, including race. When Fisher was denied admission, she filed a lawsuit alleging that considering race discriminated against her because is white. She alleged that the Top Ten Percent Plan already resulted in making the University a highly diverse institution, and that considering race among the factors for the remainder of students was unconstitutional racial balancing. The question before the Court was whether the University's use of race in admissions decisions as a means of affirmative action violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In a 7-1 decision (with Justice Kagan recused), the Supreme Court ruled that because the Fifth Circuit did not hold the University to the demanding burden of strict scrutiny articulated in Grutter and Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U. S. 265, its decision affirming the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to the University was incorrect. As a result, the case will return to the Fifth Circuit for another look. The practical impact of this decision is that the Court did not directly rule on the merits--this is a compromise decision that will be taken up again next term in a different case.
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