Full Circle On Fisher

On Wednesday, September 11th, the College & University Law Section sponsored “Diversity in Higher Education: The Legal Landscape after Fisher v. University of Texas,” a discussion of compliance and strategic planning issues for academic institutions.  This program comes just over a year after the BBA filed an amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

In Fisher v. University of Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated and remanded the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision for failing to apply strict scrutiny in reviewing the University of Texas’s race-conscious admissions policy.  The case featured Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was denied admission, alleging that the University of Texas discriminated against her on the basis of race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause in its admissions decision.  The Court’s ruling in effect upheld race-conscious admissions, but also muddied the waters.

The BBA’s amicus brief in Fisher highlighted the value of race-conscious admissions policies.  The brief specifically focused on the need for a diverse pipeline of students for law schools and for the entire legal community.  The BBA’s brief warned that:

until the composition of the legal profession more closely resembles that of the public whose interests are at stake, the perception will remain that the legal system is entrusted to and accessible to the white majority above all others.  Not only does that perception undermine the legitimacy of the judicial system, it further discourages participation by people of color, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of exclusion.

This week’s program provided attorneys with an opportunity to discuss the intricacies of Fisher and also its implications.  It changes how courts review affirmative action policies and creates compliance challenges for educational institutions.  Fisher put universities and race-conscious admission programs on alert.  Three major compliance challenges for colleges and universities are:

  • establishing a quantifiable interest in the educational benefits of a diverse student body;
  • proving that “workable, race-neutral alternatives” will not suffice; and
  • demonstrating that consideration of race is narrowly tailored. 

And with that, it all came full circle.  From amicus brief, to Supreme Court decision, to informational program, the BBA stayed on top of this important issue. 

- Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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