The University of Texas at Austin's use of affirmative action in its admission policy was deemed legal by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, reports Reuters.
Plaintiffs Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz brought a suit against UT after they were denied admission in 2008. They alleged that their civil rights were violated and demanded that the university reconsider their applications through a race-neutral lens.
UT reintroduced race into its candidate evaluation process in 2003, following the Grutter v. Bollinger case ruling which allowed the University of Michigan Law School to consider race a plus factor in admissions applications. This marked a negation of a 1996 ruling which condemned the UT from using a race-sensitive policy.
The plaintiffs argued that UT's top ten percent policy, which guarantees a spot for every high school student in Texas who graduates in the top 10 percent of the class, is a sufficient means of increasing diversity at the university. Their reasoning fell flat, however, as the court ruling noted that the 10 percent rule did not increase diversity within specific majors and classes, that it leaves out minority students with higher test scores than members of the top 10 percent and that it encourages high school students to avoid schools and classes that will challenge them academically, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Despite the unanimous agreement of the three judges on panel, it is likely that the ruling will eventually be appealed. According to the Austin American-Statesman, majority decision writer Judge Patrick Higginbotham noted that affirmative action policies are inherently temporary, and that the legality of UT's practices is tenuous: "In this dynamic environment, our conclusions should not be taken to mean that UT is immune from its obligation to recalibrate its dual systems of admissions as needed."
And although Judge Emilio M. Garza agreed that UT's policies are legal according to the precedent set by Grutter, he filed a concurring opinion to disagree with the ruling in the 2003 case.
UT's vice president for legal affairs Patti Ohlendorf told the Wall Street Journal that "the university always has maintained that our undergraduate admissions policy is constitutional."
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