Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. University of Texas at Austin
On May 16, 2019, on the eve of the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board, Edward Blum resurrected his failed challenge against the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) modest, race-conscious policy by filing a lawsuit in Travis County state court. The lawsuit targets UT’s holistic, race-conscious admissions program that considers race and ethnicity as “a factor of a factor of a factor” in its comprehensive review to promote greater diversity within, and across, racial groups on campus. This latest attack follows prior, unsuccessful challenges by Blum in both federal and state courts. As recently as 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld UT-Austin’s race-conscious policy on the grounds that it “‘promotes cross-racial understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races.’” Blum revived his assault on race-conscious admissions in December 2017 by filing a lawsuit in Travis County alleging UT-Austin’s race-conscious policy violated Texas’s state constitution and statutory prohibition on discrimination. After the 2017 lawsuit was dismissed on procedural grounds, Blum and SFFA refiled a nearly identical state lawsuit in May 2019.
In December 2019, the Lawyers’ Committee and pro bono counsel, Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP, and Bernabei & Kabat, PLLC, filed a petition to intervene on behalf of students to defend the limited, but meaningful inclusion of race—as one factor amongst many factors—to increase diversity and afford opportunities to all qualified students at one of the state’s flagship universities. The Lawyers’ Committee and co-counsel represent a diverse group of current African American, Asian American, and Latinx UT-Austin students and a multiracial student group who support race-conscious admissions and oppose SFFA’s attempt to eradicate over 40 years of established Supreme Court precedent that allows institutions to consider the race of highly-qualified applicants in the college admissions process for the purpose of building a diverse student body. In a series of written declarations to the Texas state court, the students share how their racial backgrounds are integral to understanding their full identities and outline the many benefits of racial diversity in UT-Austin’s academic and wider campus environment.
On July 9, 2020, SFFA voluntarily dismissed its state-based lawsuit challenging UT’s race-conscious policy. On July 20th, SFFA filed a new lawsuit in SFFA in the federal district court for the Western District of Texas. The new lawsuit similarly targets UT’s holistic, race-conscious admissions program, which cultivates greater racial diversity and affords opportunities to highly talented students of all racial backgrounds. Brought on behalf of two white students, the Complaint largely rehashes the same, failed arguments advanced by the Fisher v. UT litigation. However, SFFA does bring new state law claims and seeks far-reaching relief by asking the court to overturn existing Supreme Court precedent and erase all references to race in admissions.
- (Texas Tribune) UT-Austin faces a third lawsuit claiming that white students were unfairly denied admission under affirmative action
- (The Daily Texan) Students of color defend UT-Austin affirmative action policies in court filing
- (The Dallas Observer) National Civil Rights Group Pushes Back in UT Affirmative Action Lawsuit
- (The Atlantic) A Secret 1950s Strategy to Keep Out Black Students
- (The Chronicle of Higher Education) U. of Texas Is Sued Over Affirmative Action in Admissions. Yes, Again.
- (TheTexas Tribune) UT-Austin has no plans to drop affirmative action policy, despite new Trump administration guidelines