Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

Following is the case brief for Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 133 S. Ct. 2411 (2013)

Case Summary of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin:

  • In order to achieve a diverse student body, the University of Texas at Austin allowed race to be considered as one of many factors to be considered in the admissions process.
  • The University modeled its admissions policy after several Court precedents to pass constitutional muster
  • A Caucasian student who was not accepted to the University sued in federal court.
  • The district court granted the University’s motion for summary judgment, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded the case.  It held that the lower courts did not engage in a searching inquiry to determine whether the admissions policy was narrowly tailored to achieve diversity at the University, and remanded so that the courts would properly apply strict scrutiny to the policy.

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin Brief

Statement of the Facts:

The University of Texas at Austin was committed to increasing racial minority enrollment.  It adopted an admissions policy that considered race as one of various factors in its undergraduate admissions process.  The policy was adopted after the Court decided Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, which permitted the use of race as one of many plus factors in the admissions process, and Gratz v. Bollinger, which rejected the use of points for being a racial minority in the admissions process.

Fisher, a Caucasian woman, was rejected from the University’s 2008 class.  She sued in federal court, claiming that the admissions policy violated the Equal Protection Clause.

Procedural History:

  • The district court granted summary judgment to the University.
  • The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Must a school admissions policy that considers race as a factor be evaluated under strict scrutiny?  Yes.

Judgment:

The decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is vacated and remanded.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A University admissions policy that uses race as a factor in the admissions process must be evaluated under the strict scrutiny standard.

Reasoning:

Court precedent requires that an admissions process with an interest in increasing diversity at the school must be able to withstand strict scrutiny, i.e., a substantial interest that is necessary to the accomplishment of its purpose.  Here, by resolving the case on summary judgment, the University did not show that the policy in question was “narrowly tailored” to achieve diversity, and that no workable race-neutral alternatives would achieve the same results.  The searching inquiry here was lacking because the lower courts gave deference to the University’s mere assertion that it was acting in good faith.  Therefore, the Fifth Circuit’s decision must be vacated.

That said, the litigants should be given the opportunity to have the policy judged under the correct analysis, by assessing whether the University provided sufficient evidence to prove that its policy is narrowly tailored to achieve diversity.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:

Dissenting Opinion (Ginsburg):

The University has taken care to follow the Court’s precedents in order to fashion a permissible policy that achieves diversity of the student body.  A second look is not necessary.  The University has provided the appropriate showing of good faith and that race-neutral alternatives are not available.

Significance:

Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin is a significant case because it is enforcing the strict scrutiny standard for race-based admissions policy in a particularly strict way.

Student Resources:

Read the Full Court Opinion

Listen to the Oral Arguments

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