On Monday, June 24, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in the Fisher v. UT Austin case. In that case, the Caucasian plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, challenged the admissions program of The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and contended that her denial of admission violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. This was a highly watched case and over 70 amicus briefs were filed, most in support of UT’s holistic admissions process which considers an applicant’s race/ethnicity as one of several factors regarding admission to the school.
The case is especially significant for diversity and inclusion practitioners. While the plaintiff purported not to challenge existing law, there was considerable concern that the high Court might do just that, overrule the Michigan Law School case. In Grutter v. Bollinger, decided in 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the Law School’s use of race/ethnicity as one of several “plus factors” in an admissions process that evaluated the overall individual contribution of each candidate for admissions. The Court recognized that Michigan had a compelling state interest is achieving the educational benefits of a diverse student body. The Court’s agreement to review the Fisher case so soon after the Grutter decision put the holding of the Michigan case at risk.