Brief Filed Challenging Use of Race in Undergraduate Admissions at University of Texas

Brief Filed Challenging Use of Race in Undergraduate Admissions at University of Texas

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Photo: University of Texas at Austin
Photo: University of Texas at Austin

Lambda Legal joined the National Women’s Law Center and other allied organizations in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case pending at the U.S. Supreme Court for the second time challenging the use of race in undergraduate admissions decisions. The brief, which focuses on the case’s implications for women and LGBT people of color, argues that the University of Texas at Austin’s use of race in undergraduate admissions decisions is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause. Mayer Brown LLP is lead counsel on the brief.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court upheld the use of race in undergraduate admissions decisions, while remanding the University of Texas at Austin (UT) case back to the lower courts to determine if UT’s admissions process met the constitutional standard for use of race as a consideration. On remand, the Fifth Circuit, for the second time, ruled in favor of the university’s admissions policy, and the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing that decision.

“Disparities along racial and ethnic lines continue to persist in our nation, and these disparities are even greater when we factor in gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Combatting stereotypes and bias that impede access to opportunities in this nation is a pressing issue not only for people of color, many of whom are LGBT and suffer compounded discrimination, but for all of us, who gain strength from being part of a diverse community,” said Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal Director of Constitutional Litigation. “Perhaps the single most important way LGBT people have achieved progress in dismantling discrimination has been for their families, communities and nation to come to know them and understand their shared humanity.  If we want to continue to make this a better nation for our children, and for ourselves, we must ensure that our educational institutions, and the world beyond them, bring together people of diverse backgrounds who can learn from and support one another.”

Under the UT admissions policy, Texas students in the top 10 percent of their high school class are guaranteed admission to the university.  This cohort of admitted students accounts for approximately 80-90 percent of admitted students. To fill remaining seats, UT uses a relatively complex set of indices in which race may be considered as one of a number of factors in an individualized, holistic assessment of a student’s application.  Abigail Fisher, a white Texas student denied admission to UT in 2008, brought this challenge to UT’s use of race in its admissions decisions.

The brief argues that racial and ethnic disparities persist in our nation, driven in part by entrenched stereotypes and bias. Students from varying backgrounds bring differing life experiences and perspectives to educational settings, where crippling stereotypes can be questioned and dismantled. As the experience of LGBT people in this nation has demonstrated, contact with people from diverse backgrounds, and coming to understand our shared humanity, is a powerful antidote to unthinking discrimination.  Meaningful interactions among students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds – not just the presence of some arbitrary number of minority students on a campus – yield important educational benefits for everyone. These benefits include improved classroom experiences and learning outcomes, and better preparation for work and civic engagement later on. Universities should be accorded a degree of latitude to make fine-grained, nuanced admissions evaluations that further educational judgments about the importance of promoting cross-racial interactions on campus.

Counsel of record for amici curiae is Charles A. Rothfeld of Mayer Brown LLP. Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation, is handling this matter for Lambda Legal.

Read the brief here.

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