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Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the much-mooted case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. At issue in the case was whether the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action program complied with the stringent legal test the Court set out in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). Grutter held that the University of Michigan had a sufficiently “compelling state interest” in fostering a diverse student body that it could take race into account in the university admissions process, even if race-based decisions are widely unacceptable in other contexts.
In 2013, when the Supreme Court first considered UTA’s admissions program in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, it did not immediately deliver a judgment; rather, it ratcheted up the pressure on UTA by asking the school to come up with strong empirical support for its diversity plan. Little has been done since that time on remand, except to keep in place the admissions program now under attack. In the 2013 case, the Court imposed the strict scrutiny test on UTA, which generally requires an exacting review of the program to see if it falls within the narrow exception to the colorblind tests developed by the court in other cases.
The UTA program has two parts. The first part allows for 75 percent of an entering class at UTA to be composed of students who finish in the top-ten percent of their high-school class. The second part of the program allocates the other 25 percent of the slots to students on a “holistic basis,” in which race can be taken into account along with other non-academic factors.