EducationJudicialLawsuit Against UT’s Affirmative Action Policy Fails in Court

UT successfully argued that the lawsuit was simply a "repackaged" claim that the Supreme Court had already decided.
July 28, 2021
Affirmative action at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) has weathered another legal challenge after a federal judge effectively sided with the university against a group challenging its “holistic” admissions process.

The group, Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA), argued in its original complaint that UT violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by offering advantages to certain races in its admissions policies.

“SFFA has at least two members (‘Applicants’) who applied for and were denied admission to UT-Austin’s 2018 and 2019 entering classes,” the group wrote.

“Applicants, who are white, were denied the opportunity to compete for admission to UT-Austin on equal footing with other applicants on the basis of race or ethnicity because of UT-Austin’s discriminatory admissions policies.”

In its response, UT successfully pointed out that the courts have already settled SFFA’s claims in previous cases.

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“Their claims in this lawsuit once again re-package the same allegations and arguments that were unsuccessful in prior litigation,” the university wrote.

A long line of legal history undergirds the decision since a major member of SFFA has sued UT before in her individual capacity.

Following a period of outright affirmative action, a court stopped UT from considering race in the admissions process in 1997, the same year that Texas passed the “Top Ten Percent” rule. The law requires public universities to automatically offer admission to top-ranking high school students in Texas. In 2003, UT said this system “effectively compensated for the loss of affirmative action, partly by increasing recruiting and financial aid for minority students.”

The university returned to a race-conscious policy in 2004 after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan’s policy favoring black, Hispanic, and indigenous applicants. UT kept the “holistic” evaluation process it had adopted to fill out remaining class enrollment left over from students admitted under the Top Ten Percent rule, but began including race in the consideration.

Litigation against UT began under this policy in 2008, when UT denied admission to a white high school student from Sugar Land named Abigail Fisher. Fisher claimed discrimination in a lawsuit that reached the Supreme Court twice. The court’s first decision in a 2013 case known as Fisher I curbed UT’s considerations of race, ruling that the university’s race considerations served no compelling interest and did not withstand strict scrutiny.

However, after the university revised and specified its policy to keep “a holistic review containing numerous factors, including race,” it won narrowly at the Supreme Court in Fisher II in 2016.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled that SFFA’s claims are barred by res judicata — a legal doctrine precluding claims that have already been decided — since they were settled at the Supreme Court and because Fisher has a leading role in SFFA.

“None of the factual changes that SFFA alleges are either significant or indicate that there are new legal conditions regarding the applicability of Fisher to UT Austin’s admissions program that would allow relitigation of the same claims,” Pitman ruled.

“SFFA has brought essentially the same claims against the same university admissions policy as in Fisher. The alleged changes that SFFA brings forward about UT’s admissions program do not rise to the level of being ‘significant’ such that they ‘create ‘new legal conditions,’’ that would allow for relitigation of these claims.”

Ironically, SFFA claimed that UT’s holistic review process harmed rather than helped minority enrollment, pointing to statistics from the period between 1996 and 2004 when UT did not consider race in admissions.

“The 2004 entering freshman class, in other words, had a higher percentage of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics than the class that entered in 1996 when UT-Austin last used racial preferences,” SFFA wrote, recalling the university’s public statement that the Top Ten Percent rule had “effectively compensated” for the end of affirmative action.

Specifically, SFFA claimed the leeway of the holistic review process allowed UT to favor well-connected students despite their poor grades, a known practice documented in a 2015 report by investigative group Kroll Associates.

In their response, UT denied SFFA’s allegations that affirmative action enabled the undue influence uncovered in the Kroll report.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.