Fisher v. University of Texas (II) was argued at the Supreme Court on December 9, 2015 and decided on June 23, 2016.

This case is about whether the University of Texas-Austin’s affirmative action program for undergraduate admissions is constitutional. The admissions system considers the race of some applicants, as one of many factors, when deciding which students to accept. Most of the students at UT-Austin are admitted automatically under the state’s Top 10% Law, which grants admission to all students who finish in the top of their high school class. This case concerns the admission policies for the remainder of the student body.

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Legal/Content Background

Affirmative action in higher education (the practice of making a conscious effort to enroll more minority applicants) has been a controversial issue in America for decades. Supporters of affirmative action argue that race-conscious admissions are necessary because they help to correct a long history of racism and discrimination in America. Opponents often contend that the best way to correct a history of discrimination is to make all admissions decisions without looking at race.

Some people think that affirmative action in higher education violates the U.S. Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment says, in part, that states cannot “deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws.” Therefore, any government action—such as the admissions process at public colleges and universities—that treats people differently based on their race may violate the Equal Protection Clause. The Supreme Court has ruled that some affirmative action programs are acceptable, but only because public universities gain important educational benefits by creating a diverse student body. When ruling on laws that treat people differently because of their race, courts require the government to justify the use of race using an analysis called “strict scrutiny.” To be acceptable, the racial classification must serve a compelling (that is, very important) government interest and be “narrowly tailored” to achieve that interest.

This case, being considered at the Supreme Court for the second time in three years, will enable students to debate the broad concept of affirmative action and the legalities of the University of Texas’ application system.  

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Before the Oral Argument