October 22, 2015 Articles

Supreme Court to Revisit Affirmative Action in College Admissions

The coming decision promises a material development in the law on race and admissions under the Fourteenth Amendment.

By O. Andrew F. Wilson – October 22, 2015

This term, the U.S. Supreme Court will reconsider the role of race in college admissions when it hears arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. This will be the second time the Court has considered UT Austin’s admission process. The fact that the Court has chosen to review the case a second time suggests that it may be poised to deliver a substantial decision in this evolving area.

Abigail Fisher, who is Caucasian, challenges UT Austin’s denial of her admission and argues that its consideration of race among the criteria for admission violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The school’s process involves two tracks. First, about 80 percent of students are accepted pursuant to Texas’s Top Ten Percent Law that provides automatic admission for the top 10 percent of students from each Texas high school that complies with certain standards. The remaining students are admitted through a “holistic” selection process that ranks applicants using both an Academic Index (calculated using standardized test scores, class rank, and high school course work) and a Personal Achievement Index (calculated using two required essays, the applicant’s extracurricular activities, honors, awards, community service, personal circumstances, and race). The university’s basis for including race in this latter calculation is to achieve its goal of obtaining a “critical mass” of minority students.

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