Federal Appeals Court Upholds Race-Sensitive Admissions at the University of Texas

In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the University of Texas is justified in using race as a factor in its admissions decisions. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the university’s “10 percent plan,” which automatically admits students at any high school in the state who finish in the top 10 percent of their graduating class, is a viable race-neutral means of achieving diversity on campus.

One judge on the panel wrote that the university’s admission plan adhered to the Supreme Court’s “narrowly tailored” affirmative action requirement stipulated in the 2003 Grutter decision, which upheld the race-sensitive admission program at the University of Michigan law school. But another judge on the panel criticized the Grutter decision as “a digression in the course of constitutional law” but said the University of Texas plan “is a faithful, if unfortunate, application of that misstep.”

The plaintiffs have vowed to appeal the ruling either to the full Fifth Circuit panel or directly to the Supreme Court. Remember that with the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor and the seating of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the Court is more conservative on the issue of affirmative action than it was in 2003 when the Grutter ruling was handed down. President Obama’s two appointments to the Court, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, replaced justices who were supporters of race-sensitive admissions.