[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] unanimously ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday to uphold the affirmative action [JURIST news archive] policy of considering race in student admissions at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) [academic website]. The plaintiffs, two Caucasian students, were denied undergraduate admission to UT in 2008, and subsequently challenged UT’s admissions policy, which allows the university to consider race and ethnicity during admissions processing. The court found that the policy did not violate the plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment [text] and federal civil rights statutes. The court affirmed the holding of the US District Court for the Western District of Texas [official website] that UT’s policy was consistent with the 2003 US Supreme Court [official website] ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger [opinion, text; JURIST commentary]:
Their [universities’] holistic approach is part of a forward-looking effort to obtain the educational benefits of diversity. The look to race as but one element of this further goal, coupled with individualized consideration, steers university admissions away from a quota system. Grutter teaches that so long as a university considers race in a holistic and individualized manner, and not as part of a quota or fixed-point system, courts must afford a measure of deference to the university’s good faith determination that certain race-conscious measures are necessary to achieve the educational benefits of diversity, including attaining critical mass in minority enrollment.
The court concluded that UT could rely on race as one of the “special circumstances” used to evaluate student applicants because race is one of many factors the university considers.
Affirmative action continues to be a controversial issue. In August, the Supreme Court of California [official website] held that a state ban on preferential hiring practices for minorities and women does not violate [JURIST report] the federal Constitution [text]. In April 2009, California Attorney General Jerry Brown [official website] said [opinion letter, PDF] that portions of Proposition 209 [text], an amendment to the California Constitution [text] banning the use of affirmative action for state hiring, contracting, or university admission, may violate the US Constitution [JURIST report]. In November 2008, Colorado voters narrowly rejected [JURIST report] a ballot measure [Amendment 46 text and materials] to prohibit governmental agencies from discriminating or granting preferences on the basis of race and sex. A nearly identical measure passed [JURIST report] in Nebraska. In 2006, Michigan voters approved [JURIST report] a similar state constitutional amendment, which was upheld [JURIST report] in March 2008 by a federal district judge in a lawsuit alleging that such an affirmative action ban violated the US Constitution.