During the years George W. Bush was president, socially conservative state and national policies related to same-sex marriage and public school integration drove most on-campus discussions of civil rights. In the case of Parents Involved v. Seattle School District, the district claimed it was bussing students to schools outside their residential zones in order to further integration. The case made its way to the Supreme Court in 2007, with the Roberts-led court ruling with the parents of the schoolchildren that assignments based on race are still discriminatory even in the interest of desegregating schools.
“[The Parents decision] certainly is a reflection of Bush’s appointees,” assistant law professor Joseph Fishkin said. “I’d say the most impactful legacy of the Bush administration was replacing [Sandra Day] O’Connor with [Samuel] Alito.”
According to Fishkin, one of the most important civil rights issues in the first decade of the 21st century was the rise of judiciary enforcement regarding integration. The courts, as opposed to Congress, were at the forefront of racial integration in schools, causing individual people to be held responsible for inclusion.
Nicole Barragan, Spanish and public relations alum, said she didn’t notice much controversy regarding racial integration while she was a student at the University during Bush’s presidency.
In 2003, the Bush administration passed legislation barring federal agents from using race or ethnicity in routine investigations, though the policy conspicuously omitted investigations involving terrorism and national security matters. “Austin was, and is, such a liberal city, so I don’t feel like there was anyone discriminated against,” Barragan said.
In 2004, Bush called on states to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as a strictly heterosexual union. Bush said his push to amend was because of his belief that “marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.”
Some political commentators saw Bush’s appeal to the states as a deliberate move to bypass, or perhaps undermine, Congress, but Fishkin said he doesn’t think that is necessarily the case.
“[The court] could see that over time, the general public was turning away, and the trajectory showed that most young people favored marriage equality,” Fishkin said.
Although student inclusion was not a particularly divisive topic at the University, awareness was not lacking among the UT population. According to Reid Long, chemistry doctorate alum and former UT Senate member, the Queer Students Alliance released a report on gay and trans issues on campus around the same time.
Long said he recalls a Student Government resolution filed in 2007 in support of domestic partner benefits. The resolution, according to Long, was most likely passed in response to a changing social climate after Texas’ ban on gay marriage in 2005.
According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, lawsuits brought by the Civil Rights Division to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell from about 11 per year under the Clinton administration to about six per year under the Bush administration. “It was a hallmark study for that particular group in regards to campus climate,” Long said.
Regardless of national issues, on-campus policies became increasingly aimed at better representing the diverse student population. According to Long, for example, many of the applications for student leadership organizations were amended to be more inclusive to minority students.
“As far as I know, they still do their applications the same way,” Long said. “I always thought the campus was pretty good about handling things like that.”