AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin achieved an important partial victory with the decision announced Thursday (Dec. 21) by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of Cheryl J. Hopwood vs. the State of Texas.
In this case, several applicants challenged the admissions policy of the School of Law at UT Austin that allowed for the consideration of race as one of many factors in the decision for admission. In a 1996 opinion in this case, the Fifth Circuit Court prohibited UT Austin from using race or ethnicity as a factor in its admissions process. Before the 1996 decision, it was common practice in Texas universities to take account of race and ethnicity as part of their policies toward building minority enrollment.
In the decision announced Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals determined several important issues in favor of the University:
- That the plaintiffs were not admissible to the UT Austin School of Law under standard merit-based criteria
- That no money damages be awarded to the plaintiffs
- That no additional attorneys fees be awarded to the plaintiffs
The Court of Appeals did not authorize any change in the current admissions policy at UT Austin. It noted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Bakke vs. University of California “clearly stands for the proposition that the government can use racial preferences under some circumstances.” However, this three-judge panel held that it is bound by the 1996 decision prohibiting consideration of race in the admissions process.
The Court of Appeals did issue an important procedural ruling in the case. It reversed an injunction by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks on procedural grounds, but it sent the case back to Judge Sparks to consider whether the injunction should be re-entered. Such an injunction must be in place before the University can appeal to the entire Fifth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.
“This is an important procedural step in what we always knew would be a long process,” said UT Austin Professor Douglas Laycock, one of the attorneys representing the University. The next step in the case will be in Judge Sparks’ courtroom in Austin.
“I want to emphasize that our mission is to serve all the people of Texas,” said Larry R. Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin. “While this appeals court decision does not permit changes in our present admissions policies, we remain committed to keeping the door of opportunity open for all. We are dedicated to having an excellent student body that reflects the diverse population of Texas, and we continue to devise new methods toward that goal.”