The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Fisher v. Texas, a case aimed at changing how race factors into the admissions policy of the University of Texas.
In 2008, Abigail Fisher was a senior in the top twelve percent of her class at Sugar Land’s Austin High School when she was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin. The D.C.-based Project for Fair Representation filed a lawsuit on her behalf in April 2008, alleging that the school’s race-conscious admissions policy denied the white plaintiff a spot in the class of 2012, the Houston Chronicle reported at the time.
“Ms. Fisher’s argument on the merits is that Texas cannot have it both ways,” the New York Times‘ Adam Liptak wrote. “Having implemented a race-neutral program to bolster minority admissions, she says, Texas may not supplement it with a race-conscious one.”
The “race-conscious” policy stems from Grutter v. Bollinger, a landmark 2003 case in which the court decided 5-4 that the University of Michigan “could consider race as part of a holistic evaluation of an applicant,” Robert Barnes wrote in the Washington Post.
This decision affected admissions rules to several schools, and Texas Tribune‘s Morgan Smith succinctly summarizes how it changed UT’s policy:
After an applicant to the University of Texas law school successfully sued the state in the late ’90s for its race-based admissions policy, the Legislature passed the top 10 percent rule, which became a racially neutral way to promote diversity. The university also used socioeconomic-based affirmative action. But after the 2003 decision came down, it reworked the policy to consider race as a factor in admitting students outside the top 10 percent.
While a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit sided with the University of Texas in Fisher’s case, the Supreme Court decision may fall differently, according to some court watchers. “There thus seem five votes — Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito — to overrule Grutter and hold that affirmative action programs are unconstitutional,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in a recent book, according to Liptak of the Times.
The lawsuit has been winding its way through the courts for Fisher’s entire college career—she is now a senior at LSU in Baton Rouge, where she has been a member of the bowling team and keeps an active Twitter account. The court will hear the case next term, which begins in October.