AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal appeals court panel ruled Tuesday that the University of Texas can continue using race as a factor in undergraduate admissions as a way of promoting diversity on campus, the latest in an ongoing case that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court last year only to be sent back to lower courts for further review.
In a 2-1 ruling, judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that barring the university from using race would ultimately lead to a less diverse student body in defiance of previous legal precedent that promoting diversity was an important part of education.
“We are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience,” the opinion stated.
The case began in 2008 when Abigail Fisher, who is white, was denied admission to the University of Texas’s flagship Austin campus because she did not graduate in the top 10 percent of her high school class – the criterion for 75 percent of the school’s admissions. The university also passed her over for a position among the remaining 25 percent, which is reserved for special scholarships and people who meet a formula for personal achievement that includes race as a factor.
The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013. But rather than issue a landmark decision on affirmative action, it voted 7-1 to tell a lower appeals court to take another look at Fisher’s lawsuit. That meant the university’s admissions policies remained unchanged.
In November, the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit held a rare hearing in Austin where it again listened to arguments on both sides of the case.
University of Texas President Bill Powers called it “a great day for higher education nationwide.”
“As a teacher and as president of this university I know the value of diversity of all kinds,” Powers said at a news conference. “And our state and our nation won’t advance unless we’re training leaders in all parts of our society.”