Looking forward to Abigail Fisher: An Explainer

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A verdict is expected to be released in the affirmative action court case that Abigail Fisher file against the university in 2009.
Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

This summer, the Supreme Court is expected to release a ruling on the case Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas. Since the case was filed in 2009, it has sparked a debate about the role of race in college admissions. 

This case could have big implications for the representation of minorities at the University of Texas and at other public universities. Below we answered some common questions about the case. 

What is the case Abigail v. Fisher about? 
Abigail Fisher, the plaintiff, is suing the University of Texas over its race-based affirmative action policies. Fisher, who is white, said UT unfairly rejected her in favor of accepting under-qualified minority candidates on the basis of race. Edward Blum, her lawyer, said he hopes a victory for Fisher before the Supreme Court will end affirmative action at public universities nationwide. 

The University says it considers race as a limited factor in its holistic admission process to admit qualified minority candidates and create a more diverse student body. Abigail Fisher, based on her GPA, test scores and other qualifications, simply didn’t meet the standards for admission, UT says. This is the second time this case is coming before the Supreme Court after Fisher successfully petitioned the Court to review the case again.

Who is Abigail Fisher? 
Fisher, then a senior from Katy, Texas, was denied admission to UT’s freshman class in 2008. She had an SAT test score of 1180 out of 1600, a 3.59 GPA, and did not graduate in the top ten percent of her class.

“I was devastated … just being in a network of UT graduates would have been a really nice thing to be in,” Fisher told The New York Times. 

What’s at stake? What if Abigail Fisher wins? What if the University wins? 
If the University prevails in this case, UT’s current policies will likely remain in place, and they could continue to use race as a factor when admitting students under holistic review, said Joseph Fishkin, a UT law professor who has studied affirmative action.

“All it would really do is preserve the status quo, both here and elsewhere,” Fishkin said. 

A decision in Fisher’s favor could potentially end affirmative action at UT or even at other colleges throughout the country. 

If Fisher is successful, it would probably mean fewer minority students would be admitted to UT, Fishkin said. 

What is Fisher’s stance on this case? 
Fisher argues the top ten percent rule sufficiently increases diversity at UT. 

“In fact, the evidence that is available on this question suggests that African-American and Hispanic students admitted under the top 10 percent law fare better when it comes to admission to highly competitive degree programs at UT,” Fisher’s brief says. 

Therefore, considering race as a factor in holistic admission, Fisher argues, is unnecessary and unconstitutional.

“The use of race in admissions must be a last resort — not the rule,” says the Fisher case.

What is UT’s position on this case?
UT says its affirmative action policies consider race and ethnicity in a limited manner, consistent with prior court rulings. 

“The university’s commitment to using race as one factor in an individualized, holistic admissions policy allows us to assemble a student body that brings with it the educational benefits of diversity for all students,” UT said in a statement. “Our admissions policy is narrowly-tailored, constitutional and has been upheld by the courts multiple times.”

In its brief filed in the Supreme Court in response to Fisher, the University said a diverse student body has “invaluable educational benefits.” The top ten percent rule, the University said, is not enough to bring in a “critical mass” of minorities, necessitating the use of race as a factor in holistic admission. Seventy-five percent of students are admitted to UT through the top ten percent rule, and the remainder go through a holistic admissions process to become admitted to UT.