Court case claiming race should not be a factor in UT-Austin admissions set to move forward

Claire Stevens, News Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the July 6, 2022 flipbook.

A lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admissions, an organization that believes race should not be a factor in college acceptances, is set to challenge UT’s use of race in admissions by claiming it is unconstitutional.

SFFA is a nonprofit that has approximately 20,000 members “who believe that racial classifications and preferences in college admissions are unfair, unnecessary and unconstitutional,” according to the organization’s website. Their suit against UT claims the University’s use of race as a factor in admissions decisions violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in programs that receive federal funds.

“Students for Fair Admissions is grateful that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has unanimously ruled that our lawsuit challenging UT’s racial preferences can go forward,” said Edward Blum, the president of SFFA, in a statement responding to the ruling.

UT admits 75% of their in-state incoming students automatically based on class ranking, as per state law. The remaining places are decided by a holistic review of applications that considers race and ethnicity as a factor, according to arguments in the 2016 Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2020, but it was dismissed in July 2021 by a U.S. district judge who held the case dealt with the same issues as a case filed against the University that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. However, after SFFA appealed the decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on June 20 that the organization could move forward with their case because the plaintiff and claims being made in this suit differ from those of the previous case.

The University declined to comment on the ruling.

UT’s use of race as a factor in admissions decisions was previously challenged in 2008 by Abigail Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to the University. Fisher filed a suit against UT that claimed the University improperly considered race in its admissions policies, contributing to her rejection of admission. The case was filed with support from Blum, who has been a critic of race-conscious admissions policies, and works to connect plaintiffs with legal counsel.  

Fisher’s case reached the Supreme Court in 2012, which ruled lower courts should consider the use of race in university admissions policies with “strict scrutiny.” In 2016, the case came back to the Supreme Court, which ruled UT’s admissions policies passed “strict scrutiny”, allowing the current University policy to remain in place.

Fisher and Blum currently serve as members of SFFA’s board of directors. Their positions contributed to the initial dismissal of the case in July 2021, as the court said their involvement made the case too similar to Fisher’s 2008 case. However, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the case to move forward, as Fisher and Blum do not have a controlling majority of SFFA’s board. 

The appeals court ruling that allows the case to continue states that the new case also includes claims that were not included in the original Fisher case because they had not yet occurred.

Students for Fair Admissions also has ongoing cases claiming racial discrimination in admissions against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear both cases in their upcoming term.