U.S. News

Appeals court upholds University of Texas over race admissions

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the University of Texas’ use of race in admissions to ensure a more diverse student body, ruling against a pair of white students who sued after they were denied entry.

A three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, found unanimously in favor of the University of Texas, which has seen its number of black and Hispanic students rise since it began using race in evaluating applicants.

The lawsuit was brought by a pair of white students, Abigail Fisher and Rachel Michalewicz, who were denied undergraduate admission to the University of Texas at Austin in 2008.

The appeals court said the University of Texas could rely on race as one of the “special circumstances” used to evaluate student applicants because race is not the only factor considered.

The court also found that the university’s use of race in admissions was tailored to a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in 2003, which upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s use of race as one factor to evaluate applicants.

But in writing for the court, Judge Patrick Higginbotham said that the court cannot endorse the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions program “in perpetuity.”

“Rather, much like judicial approval of a state’s redistricting of voter districts, it is good only until the next census count -- it is more a process than a fixed structure that we review,” Higginbotham wrote.

Judge Emilio Garza was personally opposed to race-based admissions but felt bound by the Supreme Court decision.

“Yesterday’s racial discrimination was based on racial preference; today’s racial preference results in racial discrimination,” Garza wrote.

The Project on Fair Representation, a group based in Washington, D.C., funded the lawsuit brought by the two white students, and it said that it planned to appeal again.

“We’re disappointed, but this was not totally unexpected,” Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, told Reuters.

Representatives from the University of Texas did not immediately return calls or e-mails seeking comment

The University of Texas began using race as a factor in admissions in 2005. After that, the enrollment of black students doubled to 335 students in 2008 from 165 students in 1998, and Hispanic enrollment increased to 1,228 students from 762.

Fisher and Michalewicz had claimed that they were denied admission in violation of their equal protection rights and federal civil rights statutes. Before the case got to the appeals panel, a federal district judge in Texas ruled against the two students.

Reporting by Kathy Finn: Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis: editing by Dan Whitcomb