2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN:
|14-981. Fisher v. University of Tex. at Austin||12/09/15|
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FISHER v. UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
No. 14–981. Argued December 9, 2015—Decided June 23, 2016
The University of Texas at Austin (University) uses an undergraduate
admissions system containing two components. First, as required by
the State’s Top Ten Percent Law, it offers admission to any students
who graduate from a Texas high school in the top 10% of their class.
It then fills the remainder of its incoming freshman class, some 25%,
by combining an applicant’s “Academic Index”—the student’s SAT
score and high school academic performance—with the applicant’s
“Personal Achievement Index,” a holistic review containing numerous
factors, including race. The University adopted its current admissions
process in 2004, after a year-long-study of its admissions process—undertaken
in the wake of Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 306,
and Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U. S. 244—led it to conclude that its prior
race-neutral system did not reach its goal of providing the educational
benefits of diversity to its undergraduate students.
Petitioner Abigail Fisher, who was not in the top 10% of her high
school class, was denied admission to the University’s 2008 freshman
class. She filed suit, alleging that the University’s consideration of
race as part of its holistic-review process disadvantaged her and other
Caucasian applicants, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
The District Court entered summary judgment in the University’s favor,
and the Fifth Circuit affirmed. This Court vacated the judgment,
Fisher v. University of Tex. at Austin, 570 U. S. ___ (Fisher I),
and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals, so the University’s
program could be evaluated under the proper strict scrutiny standard.
On remand, the Fifth Circuit again affirmed the entry of summary
judgment for the University.
Held: The race-conscious admissions program in use at the time of petitioner’s
application is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause.
2 FISHER v. UNIVERSITY OF TEX. AT AUSTIN
(a) Fisher I sets out three controlling principles relevant to assessing
the constitutionality of a public university’s affirmative action
program. First, a university may not consider race “unless the
admissions process can withstand strict scrutiny,” i.e., it must show
that its “purpose or interest is both constitutionally permissible and
substantial, and that its use of the classification is necessary” to accomplish
that purpose. 570 U. S., at ___. Second, “the decision to
pursue the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity
is, in substantial measure, an academic judgment to which some, but
not complete, judicial deference is proper.” Id., at ___. Third, when
determining whether the use of race is narrowly tailored to achieve
the university’s permissible goals, the school bears the burden of
demonstrating that “available” and “workable” “race-neutral alternatives”
do not suffice. Id., at ___. Pp. 6–8.
(b) The University’s approach to admissions gives rise to an unusual
consequence here. The component with the largest impact on petitioner’s
chances of admission was not the school’s consideration of
race under its holistic-review process but the Top Ten Percent Plan.
Because petitioner did not challenge the percentage part of the plan,
the record is devoid of evidence of its impact on diversity. Remand
for further factfinding would serve little purpose, however, because at
the time of petitioner’s application, the current plan had been in effect
only three years and, in any event, the University lacked authority
to alter the percentage plan, which was mandated by the Texas
Legislature. These circumstances refute any criticism that the University
did not make good faith efforts to comply with the law. The
University, however, does have a continuing obligation to satisfy the
strict scrutiny burden: by periodically reassessing the admission program’s
constitutionality, and efficacy, in light of the school’s experience
and the data it has gathered since adopting its admissions plan,
and by tailoring its approach to ensure that race plays no greater role
than is necessary to meet its compelling interests. Pp. 8–11.
(c) Drawing all reasonable inferences in her favor, petitioner has
not shown by a preponderance of the evidence that she was denied
equal treatment at the time her application was rejected. Pp. 11–19.
(1) Petitioner claims that the University has not articulated its
compelling interest with sufficient clarity because it has failed to
state more precisely what level of minority enrollment would constitute
a “critical mass.” However, the compelling interest that justifies
consideration of race in college admissions is not an interest in enrolling
a certain number of minority students, but an interest in obtaining
“the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity.”
Fisher I, 570 U. S., at ___. Since the University is prohibited from
Cite as: 579 U. S. ____ (2016) 3
seeking a particular number or quota of minority students, it cannot
be faulted for failing to specify the particular level of minority enrollment
at which it believes the educational benefits of diversity will
On the other hand, asserting an interest in the educational benefits
of diversity writ large is insufficient. A university’s goals cannot be
elusory or amorphous—they must be sufficiently measurable to permit
judicial scrutiny of the policies adopted to reach them. The record
here reveals that the University articulated concrete and precise
goals—e.g., ending stereotypes, promoting “cross-racial understanding,”
preparing students for “an increasingly diverse workforce and
society,” and cultivating leaders with “legitimacy in the eyes of the
citizenry”—that mirror the compelling interest this Court has approved
in prior cases. It also gave a “reasoned, principled explanation”
for its decision, id., at ___, in a 39-page proposal written after a
year-long study revealed that its race-neutral policies and programs
did not meet its goals. Pp. 11–13.
(2) Petitioner also claims that the University need not consider
race because it had already “achieved critical mass” by 2003 under
the Top Ten Percent Plan and race-neutral holistic review. The record,
however, reveals that the University studied and deliberated for
months, concluding that race-neutral programs had not achieved the
University’s diversity goals, a conclusion supported by significant
statistical and anecdotal evidence. Pp. 13–15.
(3) Petitioner argues further that it was unnecessary to consider
race because such consideration had only a minor impact on the
number of minority students the school admitted. But the record
shows that the consideration of race has had a meaningful, if still
limited, effect on freshman class diversity. That race consciousness
played a role in only a small portion of admissions decisions should
be a hallmark of narrow tailoring, not evidence of unconstitutionality.
(4) Finally, petitioner argues that there were numerous other
race-neutral means to achieve the University’s goals. However, as
the record reveals, none of those alternatives was a workable means
of attaining the University’s educational goals, as of the time of her
application. Pp. 15–19.
758 F. 3d 633, affirmed.