This morning, the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action as practiced by the University of Texas with a 4-3 decision in a case filed by a student named Abigail Fisher who argued that she had been denied admission to the school because she is white.
The court’s majority decision was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. The three dissenters were Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts. (Justice Elena Kegan recused herself because she had previously litigated the case; the ninth seat remains empty after the death of Antonin Scalia.) According to BuzzFeed, Alito read part of his dissenting opinion aloud in court to emphasize his stance on the case.
The case focused on the specific admissions practices of the University of Texas, where a certain percentage of the state’s top high school students are automatically admitted every year. Per the New York Times, the remaining in-state applicants compete for a small number of spots—just 841 in 2008, according to ProPublica, when Fisher applied. ProPublica explains how the school determines who gets accepted into those slots:
She and other applicants who did not make the cut were evaluated based on two scores. One allotted points for grades and test scores. The other, called a personal achievement index, awarded points for two required essays, leadership, activities, service and “special circumstances.” Those included socioeconomic status of the student or the student’s school, coming from a home with a single parent or one where English wasn’t spoken. And race.
Those two scores, combined, determine admission.
Fisher said publicly that she aimed to make it so schools admit students “solely based on their merit and if they work hard for it,” but ProPublica exhaustively argues that Fisher was denied based on merit:
Even among those students, Fisher did not particularly stand out. Court records show her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores (1180 out of 1600) were good but not great for the highly selective flagship university. The school’s rejection rate that year for the remaining 841 openings was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard.
As a result, university officials claim in court filings that even if Fisher received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor, the letter she received in the mail still would have said no.
It’s true that the university, for whatever reason, offered provisional admission to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were black or Latino. Forty-two were white.
Neither Fisher nor Blum mentioned those 42 applicants in interviews. Nor did they acknowledge the 168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher’s who were also denied entry into the university that year. Also left unsaid is the fact that Fisher turned down a standard UT offer under which she could have gone to the university her sophomore year if she earned a 3.2 GPA at another Texas university school in her freshman year.
Fisher has since graduated from Louisiana State University, so everything more or less worked out okay.