On Monday the National Women’s Law Center and 22 other women’s organizations urged the Supreme Court to affirm the constitutionality of UT-Austin’s race conscious admissions. The Court will hear Fisher v. UT-Austin in early October, considering the constitutionality of race-conscious admissions to forward diversity in higher education for the first time since Justices Roberts and Alito joined the Court. (Justice Kagan is recused from the case, meaning that it will be decided by the remaining eight Justices. If the Justices split 4-4, the decision below, upholding UT-Austin’s admission plan, will stand.)
UT-Austin fills most of its freshman class through its Top Ten Percent Plan, under which the top ten percent of the graduating class every Texas high school is automatically entitled to admission. The remainder of the UT-Austin class is filled based on consideration of individual students’ academic credentials and personal experiences and qualities, including, in some instances, race. As the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held last year in upholding the constitutionality of the plan, UT-Austin carefully crafted this process to comply with the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, which held that consideration of race in public university admissions could properly forward the compelling interest in diversity in education. But those challenging UT-Austin’s consideration of race argue that the Top Ten Percent plan produces sufficient racial diversity at UT-Austin and that the university thus does not have a compelling interest justifying its consideration of race as a factor in filling the remainder of its entering class.
In our friend-of-the-court brief, we explained that racial diversity in higher education is important to women, and especially women of color, because this diversity breaks down stereotypes that feed and perpetuate inequality, including the intertwined race and gender stereotypes that women of color face. These stereotypes contribute to women of color being clustered in certain fields of study. As a result, if race cannot be taken into account in admissions decisions, many degree programs and courses will lack diversity even if university-wide statistics suggest significant diversity within the student body. Students in those programs will therefore be deprived of the critical benefits of learning with and from people representing the widest array of backgrounds and experiences; and the future leaders of government and business that the university trains will be denied the experience in communicating with people of different backgrounds and experiences required to fulfill those important roles effectively. For example, in a field traditionally made up of white males, such as engineering or computer science, a woman of color may, because of her background, interests, and abilities, have the potential to contribute a unique perspective that will enhance the educational experience of her fellow students. Accordingly, we argued, a state university must have the freedom to consider those factors, among all the others that go into its admissions decisions, in order to assemble an incoming class that best serves all students and advances the state’s interests in achieving a diverse educational environment.
Close to 70 briefs were filed in support of UT-Austin, not only by civil rights groups and women’s rights groups, but also by business leaders, military leaders, social scientists, colleges and universities, religious organizations, and many more, all arguing for the importance of racial diversity in higher education. We hope the Court hears loud and clear the strong, united voices in support of UT-Austin in this case.