Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds Principles of Diversity in Higher Education, Affirms Lower Court Ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas on Remand 

(New York, NY)–Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. applauds the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas in which the court endorsed the benefits of a racially diverse student body. On remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the constitutionality of the affirmative action measures taken to advance the University of Texas Austin’s (UT Austin) compelling interest in fostering a diverse learning environment. 

In its decision, the Fifth Circuit recognized that a diverse campus brings invaluable benefits, writing: “We are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience.” The Fifth Circuit added “We find force in the argument that race here is a necessary part, albeit one of many parts” of UT Austin’s admissions plan. 

Over the last several years, LDF has represented the Black Student Alliance at UT Austin (BSA) and Black Ex-Students of Texas (BEST) in the Fisher litigation. Last year, LDF argued in briefs and oral arguments in the Fifth Circuit that the framework established by the Supreme Court in the 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger remains vital. 

“Universities are incubators for America’s future leadership and for civic engagement,” said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. “This decision should stand as a declaration of the ongoing importance and legality of affirmative action efforts that holistically evaluate applicants for admission in higher education,” Ifill added. 

The strength of the record developed by the University of Texas sufficiently supports the ongoing use of race as a tool to ensure diversity in our nation’s institutions of higher learning. 

David McDonald, the President of the Black Student Alliance at UT Austin, said “My classmates and I have seen firsthand how important a diverse campus is to fostering a meaningful living and learning experience. I am thrilled that the Fifth Circuit has upheld the principles of diversity in higher education.” 

While our country has made tremendous progress, race continues to play an unfortunate, but significant role in determining the educational outcomes of many children of color. This decision affirms that colleges and universities can use a variety of legal means to achieve a racially diverse and academically qualified student body. Flagship public institutions like UT Austin have a special responsibility to ensure that pathways to leadership remain open to all students. LDF will continue to fight to ensure meaningful access to higher education for all students.