"Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin et al." is a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case focusing on affirmative action in higher education admissions. The case, commonly referred to as "Fisher v. University of Texas" or "Fisher I" (2013) and "Fisher II" (2016), revolved around the constitutionality of the University of Texas at Austin's (UT Austin) use of race as a factor in its admissions process.
- Abigail Fisher: The petitioner, Abigail Fisher, a white applicant, was denied admission to UT Austin and subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming that the university's consideration of race in admissions decisions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
- University's Admissions Policy: UT Austin's admissions policy included a "Top Ten Percent" plan, which guaranteed admission to Texas students in the top ten percent of their high school class. For the remaining spots, the university used a holistic review process that considered race as one of many factors.
- Constitutionality of Race Consideration: The central legal issue was whether UT Austin's consideration of race in undergraduate admissions decisions was lawful under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Fisher I (2013):
- Supreme Court Decision: In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court did not directly rule on the constitutionality of the policy but held that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had not applied the strict scrutiny standard properly in affirming the policy's constitutionality.
- Remand to Lower Court: The case was remanded to the Fifth Circuit for reconsideration under the correct standard.
Fisher II (2016):
- Second Supreme Court Review: The case returned to the Supreme Court after the Fifth Circuit again upheld the university's policy.
- Affirmation of Policy: In a 4-3 decision (Justice Kagan recused herself), the Supreme Court upheld UT Austin's admissions policy.
- Opinion by Justice Kennedy: Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, held that the university's use of race was narrowly tailored to achieve the broader goals of diversity and that there were no workable race-neutral alternatives that would achieve the same level of diversity.
- Strict Scrutiny Applied: The decisions emphasized that any consideration of race in admissions must meet the standard of strict scrutiny, meaning the policy must be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling governmental interest.
- Diversity in Higher Education: The Court recognized the educational benefits of diversity as a compelling interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.
Impact and Legacy:
- Affirmative Action in Higher Education: The Fisher decisions are significant in the context of affirmative action in higher education, affirming that race can be one of multiple factors considered in college admissions to foster diversity.
- Continued Debate: The rulings did not end the national debate over affirmative action but provided a framework for how universities might constitutionally consider race in admissions.
"Fisher v. University of Texas" remains a pivotal case in the ongoing discussion about the role of race in college admissions and the pursuit of diversity in higher education.