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Supreme Court Upholds UT Austin’s Affirmative Action Measures

In a 4-3 vote, the Supreme Court rejected the assertion that the University of Texas at Austin was making unfair admissions decisions by considering applicants’ racial and ethnic backgrounds.

The court concluded that under the Equal Protection Clause, UT Austin’s admissions practices were lawful, and in doing so, set a precedent that affirmative action is constitutional.

“Although admissions officers can consider race as a positive feature of a minority student’s application, there is no dispute that race is but a ‘factor of a factor of a factor’ in the holistic-review calculus,” stated the Supreme Court in their decision. “Furthermore, consideration of race is contextual and does not operate as a mechanical plus factor for underrepresented minorities.”

UT Austin’s reviews undergraduate applicants through two measures. As required by Texas’ Top Ten Percent Law, the university admits all Texas public school students who graduate in the top ten percent of their class—although as UT admits a maximum of 75 percent of their class through this policy, students accepted through this policy typically finish in the top seven or eight percent. The remaining acceptances are determined through a holistic review, typical of many universities, in which admissions officers account for factors such as test scores, academic performance, extracurricular involvement, leadership positions, as well as race and ethnicity.

The lawsuit began when plaintiff Abigail Fisher, an in-state student that was not in the top ten percent of her graduating class, was not admitted to the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 (Fisher v. University of Texas). Fisher, a white woman, claimed that racial considerations impacted her admissions decision, challenging the use of race in admissions decisions. Records show that Fisher probably didn’t have the academic or personal achievements to get into UT Austin, regardless of race. But the decision from SCOTUS shows that either way, she was wrong.

“I’m pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the basic notion that diversity is an important value in our society,” President Obama said of the decision, according to The New York Times. “We are not a country that guarantees equal outcomes, but we do strive to provide an equal shot to everybody.”

Sorry, Ms. Fisher, but that tiny envelope you received eight years ago isn’t getting rescinded.

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Elana Golub

Northwestern '18