AALDEF Statement on Upcoming Supreme Court Affirmative Action Case Fisher v. Texas
In 2012, the Supreme Court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin to determine whether UT-Austin’s policy of considering race in undergraduate admissions should be upheld. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) will be filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of UT-Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy. Here is some background information on the upcoming case.
The case: Abigail Fisher, a white applicant, sued UT-Austin in 2008 after it rejected her undergraduate application. She alleges the admissions policy violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and federal civil rights statutes.
UT-Austin’s admissions process: At UT-Austin, the majority (e.g., 86% in 2009) of freshman are admitted under the state’s Top Ten Percent law — a race-blind policy that guarantees admission to any public (and many private) high school senior in roughly the top 10% of his/her class. Following that, the remaining minority of students are admitted based on academic rankings, performance, and personal achievement index (which takes into account diversity, leadership experience, extracurricular activities and socio-economic status).
The law: In Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Supreme Court said that colleges could attain diversity by looking at race as one of many factors, so long as they did not set quotas or percentages based on race, in order to attract enough minority students so that minorities wouldn’t feel isolated in college or like spokespeople for their race. UT-Austin’s policy complies with these rules.
OUR POSITION ON FISHER v. TEXAS
AALDEF, which counts achieving educational equity and equal rights for all among its fundamental goals, supports the current affirmative action law. If the court changes the law and ends affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, overall diversity at colleges and graduate schools would dramatically diminish across the country. Other Asian American groups, such as the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, have also supported affirmative action in college admissions.
Some people claim that affirmative action hurts Asian American students. Here’s why that is false:
First, many opponents of affirmative action have conflated discrimination against Asian American applicants, or negative action, with positive, or affirmative action. Negative action occurs when a university denies admittance to an Asian American applicant who would have been admitted if he/she was white. In the past, universities have used negative action against minorities to preserve the traditional white character of colleges. Today, negative action takes the form of legacy and donor admissions.
Second, among the 24 distinct Asian American ethnic groups, the range of educational attainment is significant. For example, 40% of Cambodians and Laotians in California haven’t finished high school, twice the statewide rate. When affirmative action was banned in UC-Berkeley after Proposition 209, these Asian American subgroups, among others, were drastically underrepresented in the freshman class.
Third, Asian Americans overall continue to be underrepresented in various admissions programs. For example, after Proposition 209 banned affirmative action at UC-Berkeley, Asian enrollment fell in graduate disciplines (although white enrollment skyrocketed).
Fourth, the purpose of diversity is to benefit the entire community. Diversity helps all students develop as leaders and civic participants, and is necessary for breaking down racial stereotypes that Asian Americans face. In the higher education context in particular, classroom contact with students of various racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds is a necessary part of a complete education that will best prepare Asian American students for real world challenges.