The Supreme Court is currently hearing Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin II, a case that has the potential to dismantle affirmative action policies at predominantly-white institutions. Plaintiff Abigail Fisher is suing the University of Texas-Austin for rejecting her application for undergraduate admission. Fisher claims that the school’s admissions process, which accepts the top 10 percent of graduating seniors at Texas’ high schools and then admits other through an evaluation, is biased and favors students of color with low-income backgrounds.
While the school does award additional points to students of color, UT-Austin doesn’t guarantee admission to underqualified applicants. Fisher wasn’t the only student rejected in 2008. Pro Publica, a news organization that produces investigative journalism, notes that five Black and Latino applicants and 42 white applicants were passed over for students with lower test scores and grades. Rejection stings, but it isn’t cause for a lawsuit. Yet, Fisher pushed forward, claiming UT-Austin’s admissions policies violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Lower courts ruled against Fisher. In 2009, United States District Court judge Sam Sparks found that UT-Austin’s policies are constitutional. The Fifth Circuit panel upheld Sparks’ findings and again sided against Fisher. She and her legal team weren’t deterred. Even as Fisher embarked on an undergraduate career at Louisiana State University, she still petitioned the Supreme Court to hear her case.
The conservative-leaning Supreme Court agreed to hear Fisher’s case in 2012 and issued a ruling in 2013. In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court vacated the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, claiming that the court didn’t require UT-Austin “to prove that its admissions program is narrowly tailored to obtain the educational benefits of diversity.” In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas, who benefitted from affirmative action, wrote that “there is no principled distinction between the University’s assertion that diversity yields educational benefits and the segregationists’ assertion that segregation yielded those same benefits.”
The Court sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit, which again sided with UT-Austin and their admissions policies.
Despite the lower courts’ rulings, Fisher’s legal team is back in front of the Supreme Court, arguing again that she should have been admitted to the university.
Abigail Fisher’s personal vendetta against UT-Austin, which cost her nothing other than a jolt to her pride, may be the death knell for affirmative action in college admissions. Even if her crusade was a noble one, the fact is she never would’ve been accepted into UT-Austin. She was a mediocre student who involved herself in a few extracurricular activities to attempt to supplement her run-of-the-mill GPA and SAT scores. UT-Austin is a selective institution. At the time when Fisher applied, Austin admitted 10 percent of applicants who didn’t qualify under the top 10 percent policy.
“There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin,” Fisher explained.
Instead of recognizing that she didn’t earn admission into UT-Austin, Fisher is attempting to validate herself by blaming affirmative action. Affirmative action, which benefits white women above all other demographics, isn’t the issue at the center of this Supreme Court case.
The Supreme Court’s conservative justices, like Thomas, are also using Fisher’s case to fulfill their post-racial agendas. Conservative activist, Edward Blum, recruited Fisher to be the plaintiff for this case, in an effort to prove constitutional laws protecting minorities are, in fact, racist. In his original opinion in the Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin case, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “The Constitution proscribes government discrimination on the basis of race, and state-provided education is no exception.”
Race-conscious admissions are not the equivalent of racism. Yet, the rejection of white mediocrity is considered worthy of dismantling a system that’s designed to offer people of color and women an opportunity to be judged on their merit instead of on biases that pervade the collegiate admissions process.
Whiteness, and the privilege it affords, guarantees white folks access to multiple social gains. In this case, whiteness wasn’t enough to overcome ordinariness. Qualified African-American students didn’t steal an admissions spot from Fisher. She never had a spot to begin with. If the Supreme Court dismantles affirmative action because one white woman just wasn’t good enough, it will simply reinforce what can be proven historically – white woman tears have power.