July 12, 2016
On June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Fisher v. Univ. of Texas at Austin. This is the second time the case has come before the high court. Abigail Fisher, a white female, applied for admission to the University of Texas at Austin (the University) but was denied. Fisher sued the University and argued that the use of race as a consideration in the admissions process violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court held that the University’s admissions process was constitutional, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The case went to the Supreme Court (Fisher I), which held that the appellate court erred in how it applied the strict scrutiny standard, improperly deferring to the University’s good faith in its use of racial classifications. On remand the Fifth Circuit again ruled in favor of the University, deeming its use of race in the admissions process narrowly tailored to a legitimate interest in achieving “the rich diversity that contributes to its academic mission.”
On its second trip to the Supreme Court, the question was whether the Fifth Circuit’s re-endorsement of the University’s use of racial preferences could be sustained under the Equal Protection Clause. By a vote of 4-3, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Fifth Circuit. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court, which held that the race-conscious admissions program in use at the time of Fisher’s application was narrowly tailored and lawful under the Equal Protection Clause. Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Alito also filed a dissenting opinion, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas joined. Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
To discuss the case, we have Roger B. Clegg, who is President and General Counsel, Center for Equal Opportunity.