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Federal Appeals Court upholds University of Texas use of Affirmative Action

A federal appeals court has re- affirmed the University of Texas at Austin’s decision to use affirmative action in its admission process, according to July 15, 2014 story published at US News & World Report.

"It is settled that instruments of state may pursue facially neutral policies calculated to promote equality of opportunity among students to whom the public schools of Texas assign quite different starting places in the annual race for seats in its flagship university," wrote Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. "It is equally settled that universities may use race as part of a holistic admissions program where it cannot otherwise achieve diversity."

The landmark case in question was originally filed by Abigail Fisher, a white Texas student who was denied admission to the University of Texas- Austin when she applied in 2008. Her denial was based partially on race and Fisher and her attorneys were prepared to let the U.S. Supreme Court decide the case, but the highest court in the land returned the decision back to the federal appeals court.

The University of Texas at Austin follows a 10 percent admission system, whereby students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class are granted admission. Anyone who doesn’t finish in the top 10 percent can still gain admission, but must wait for a decision based on an evaluation of individual merit. One of the factors used is race and, if the University of Texas at Austin or any other Texas university determines its student body is not sufficiently balanced along racial lines, it can show favor toward minority races and admit these individuals even when other applicants have greater qualifications.

Fisher sued the University of Texas at Austin because she believes the present system creates an unfair advantage that favors minority races. Race does not matter if a student finishes in the top 10 percent of his/her high school class and Fisher feels it shouldn’t matter regardless of class ranking.

University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, however, agrees with the ruling and believes it is in the best interests of universities everywhere.

"We remain committed to assembling a student body at the University of Texas at Austin that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity while respecting the rights of all students," said Powers. "This ruling ensures that our campus, our state and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events and in all aspects of campus life."

Although the Supreme Court deferred this case to the court of appeals, it has already ruled that states can, if they like, ban affirmative action in university admission policies and such action would not violate the Constitution. At present, eight U.S. states- Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Washington- have done exactly that, rejecting affirmative action and basing college admissions solely on the academic achievements and merits of the individual.

Parents residing in Texas and the remaining 41 states with affirmative action laws in place will need to consider these admission standards when they decide where their children should or should not apply. Fisher vs. University of Texas was narrowly decided by a 2-1 vote and while affirmative action was upheld this time around, the issue is far from resolved. Citizens can expect similar lawsuits, state constitutional initiatives, and other legal challenges in other states in the coming years.