Fischer v. University of Texas At Austin: Everything You Need to Know Ahead of the Major SCOTUS Decision


Affirmative action has been an issue polarizing political pundits for years. While some see the altered selection process criteria as being unfair, others consider it a necessary means for maintaining a diverse college environment.

Abigail Fischer, a Caucasian student possessing the numerical criteria (GPA, SAT scores) that made her fit within the school's "average profile" of accepted students, saw her denial of admission to be an injustice. Unlike earlier affirmative action court cases, Fischer v. University of Texas at Austin challenges undergraduate admissions.

What is the precedent?

This is not the first time affirmative action has come before the Supreme Court. In 2003, the Court ruled in favor of allowing race to be considered as part of the admission process for law school in the landmark case Grutter v. Bollinger

Justice O'Connor argued on the grounds that there is compelling evidence diversity improves learning outcomes, which is a direct component of the law school's mission. O'Connor notes, "The policy does not define diversity solely in terms of racial and ethnic status and does not restrict the types of diversity contributions eligible for 'substantial weight,' but it does reaffirm the Law School’s commitment to diversity with special reference to the inclusion of African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American students."

The fact that race, which is being seen as a primary issue in Fischer v. University of Texas, is considered to be only one of several factors constituting "diversity" could have enormous implications. The plaintiff will have an awfully difficult time skating around this precedent.

As a note, it is probably in the best interest of Fischer to not argue that the Grutter v. Bollinger decision was wrong: it is far more difficult to overturn a past decision than it is to try going around it.

Possible Implications

Ronald Dworkin, a renowned 20th century legal philosopher, argued for the role of law as integrity. His influence is far reaching in modern conceptions of jurisprudence: if we take the judges to consider law as integrity, then it is likely based on Grutter v. Bollinger that the Court will rule against the plaintiff, Abigail Fischer.

For instance, "law as integrity" has implications about the role of law over time. Given the past precedent, it would maintain the integrity of the Grutter v. Bollinger decision to allow the defendant, UT-Austin, to continue their current admissions selection process.

Therefore, the question becomes whether Fischer's lawyers can argue sufficiently that the current case is remarkably different from the past decision.

Has Fischer's 14th Amendment Right been violated?

Abigail Fischer, who is already a college graduate, is primarily seeking damages ($) for the current case. Fischer argues that the current case is markedly different from the Michigan Law School case insofar as UT-Austin grants automatic admission to students graduating in the top 10% of their high school class. This leaves about a fifth of the remaining class to compete for spots.

Fischer contends that her constitutional right to 14th Amendment right to Equal Protection has been violated. But still, this case carries traces of a bitter student who is emotionally discontented for not earning acceptance. Any student applying to an array of selective universities should be aware that simply meeting statistical standards in no way guarantees success in the admissions process. As the defendant and many others agree, a holistic review goes beyond looking at an applicant as a set of numerical scores. 

A look to the future

The result of this case will have enormous implications on the future of "affirmative action" policies in college admissions. If the Court rules in favor of Fischer, it will likely have to overturn or go around the Grutter decision. A possible consequent of this is a national shift away from the emphasis on diversity, which is known to improve educational outcomes.