Fisher v. University of Texas (affirmative action)

University of Texas, AustinWhat happened?

  • The University of Texas considers race as one of many factors in its undergraduate admissions process.  Fisher, a Caucasian female, was rejected for admission and sued, alleging that using race as a factor violates the Equal Protection Clause (14th Amendment) which guarantees equal rights regardless of race.  The lower courts ruled for UT, giving deference to the University’s compelling interest in achieving diversity.

How did the Supreme Court rule?

  • Overturned 7-1.  The Court sent the case back to the lower court for review based on a different standard of strict scrutiny.

What is “strict scrutiny”?

  • In the legal world there is a set of standards that courts use to decide if a government’s interest is infringing upon a Constitutional right.  In this case, whether the government’s interest in achieving diversity should trump full and equal protection.
  • Strict scrutiny is the highest and “strictest” bar to clear for a governmental law or policy.  To pass a strict scrutiny test, the state must show three things:
    • There is a compelling government interest for the policy
    • The policy is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest (it must be limited in nature)
    • The policy is the least restrictive means to achieve the interest
  • Strict scrutiny is a difficult hurdle to jump because the burden is on the government to clearly satisfy all three elements

What does it all mean?

  • The case goes back to the appeals court and they must re-decide the case based on a different standard of review.  The lower courts ruled in favor of UT but based on a lower level of scrutiny
  • The Court chose not to make a decision on the case itself, just in how it was previously decided
  • UT having to pass a strict scrutiny test will make it more difficult for their race-based admissions process to be ruled Constitutional

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