At the heart of the underlying lawsuit is whether the university violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by using race as a factor in deciding which student applicants to admit and which to reject.
Abigail Fisher, who is white, applied but was denied admission to the university in 2008. In her lawsuit she alleges that her academic credentials were superior to many African-American and Hispanic candidates who were admitted after receiving preferential consideration by admissions officers because they were deemed to be “underrepresented minorities.”
Lawyers for the university defended the school’s use of race in admissions, saying it is narrowly tailored to help the university achieve a critical level of diversity. They said the program was patterned on the affirmative action plan used at the University of Michigan Law School that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003.
The high court ruled for the first time in the Michigan case that student diversity could be a compelling interest justifying a state university’s use of race as one of many factors in admissions.
The University of Texas had maintained a race-conscious affirmative action plan until 1996, when a federal appeals court panel ruled that the use of race in admissions was unconstitutional. The state legislature responded by enacting the Top Ten Percent Law, which requires the University of Texas to admit the top 10 percent of graduates from each high school in Texas.
The law significantly boosted the level of minority enrollment at UT without any reliance on race as a factor in admissions. By 2004, black and Hispanic students comprised 21.4 percent of the incoming freshman class.
Nonetheless, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Michigan case, Texas officials in 2004 decided to create a supplemental admissions program using race as one of several factors. It is that supplemental program that is being challenged by Ms. Fisher and her lawyers.