Updated Aug. 14, 1 p.m.: The chorus calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the University of Texas at Austin's current policy allowing race to be a factor in admissions decisions has been joined by the family of Heman Sweatt, who was famously denied access to the University of Texas School of Law in 1946 because he was black.
Sweatt paved the way for black people to be admitted to UT's law school by going before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1950 and successfully challenging the "separate but equal" policy that had been used to justify sending him to law school in Houston at what became Texas Southern University.
For students who do not gain automatic admission to UT through the state's top ten percent rule, the university currently conducts a holistic review which takes race into consideration. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case, which challenges this policy, in October.
In their amicus brief, Sweatt's daughter and two nephews argue that UT's current policy "best honors" his legacy. "It is naïve in the extreme to think that race does not influence our lives and how we view the world," they write in their brief. "In UT’s holistic review, however, race influences lives and views; it does not define them."
Original story: Dozens of third-party groups on Monday filed amicus briefs defending the University of Texas' admissions procedures, including the White House and 38 members of the Texas Legislature.
"In the Texas of the 21st century, UT's admissions policies strike the delicate balance of ensuring fairness and diversity," state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said in a statement.
The U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in Fisher vs. the University of Texas on Oct. 10, the second week of its new term. The question is whether UT’s admission policy, which considers applicants’ race as one factor, violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The brief, signed by nine state senators and 29 state representatives, argues that UT’s admission process "is both constitutional and fully consistent" with the court’s precedents.
Fisher will be the first affirmative action case the court will hear since its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. In that case, the court decided the University of Michigan Law School admissions program that gave special consideration to students for being of a certain racial minority did not violate the 14th Amendment.
Abigail Fisher, a white woman who challenged UT's policy after being denied admission, argued that the school goes beyond the bounds established by Grutter. UT uses race as part of a review of applicants who aren't automatically admitted under a state law that grants admission to students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class. Fisher argues that the practice should be stopped, because the system already in place adequately addressed diversity concerns.
In a statement accompanying the legislators’ amicus brief, Ellis said that when Texas banned consideration of race in the 1990s, the number of minority students admitted to state universities decreased significantly. According to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, at no point between 1997 and 2004 — when the policies were adjusted after the Grutter decision — did African-American students comprise more than 4.5 percent of UT's entering first-year class.
"I pray the Supreme Court will recognize the wisdom of its prior decision, because we cannot afford to roll back the clock on a half century of progress," Ellis said.
The Obama administration also filed a friend of the court brief Monday, arguing that the admissions policy is constitutional and should be upheld.
“Numerous federal agencies — including the Departments of Defense, Justice, Education, Commerce, Labor, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, among others — have concluded that well-qualified and diverse graduates are crucial to the fulfillment of their missions,” the brief states. It was signed by Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli and general counsels for six other federal agencies.
“The United States thus has a strong interest in the development of the law regarding the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions in higher education,” Verrilli wrote.
Also filing amicus briefs in support of the University of Texas were the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the University of California, the Association of American Medical Colleges and the College Board.