University’s Holistic Admissions Policy Critical to Achieve Equal Opportunity for Students, Say 35 Prominent Social Scientists in Brief with U.S. Supreme Court

Amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin says UT admissions policy must be allowed to consider race in order to promote equal educational opportunity for all students

OAKLAND, Calif. (Nov. 2, 2015) – The holistic admissions policy at the University of Texas at Austin must continue to consider race, or the “educational experience of all students on campus will be diminished,” stated 35 of the country’s most prominent social scientists in an amicus brief filed today with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Considering race within a broader and holistic admissions policy is the only effective and efficient way for UT Austin to promote equal educational opportunity for all students, says the brief.

The brief (PDF) was filed as the Supreme Court again considers Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a complaint by Abigail Fisher against the University of Texas at Austin claiming that she was not accepted into that institution because she is white.

The Supreme Court’s second look at this case comes after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals again ruled in favor of UT Austin’s admissions policy.

“In this brief, we carefully analyze and demonstrate through social science how racial bias operates in the 21st century,” said Dr. Linda R. Tropp, Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, one of the amici. “We also emphasize the measurable benefit of diversity in education, the workplace, and in our social institutions.”

The social scientists filed the brief with legal counsel Eva Paterson and Allison S. Elgart of the Equal Justice Society; a team of attorneys from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati that included David J. Berger, Lisa A. Davis, Luke A. Liss, and David A. Brown; and john a. powell and Stephen Menendian of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley. The Equal Justice Society legal team also included Christopher Bridges, Alynia Phillips, and Kyle Kate Dudley.

UT Austin’s admissions approach is both necessary and narrowly tailored

UT’s hybrid approach to admissions is both necessary and narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling government interest of obtaining true diversity throughout higher education, states the brief. The approach utilizes the race-neutral Top Ten Percent Plan (TTPP) in addition to the race-conscious individualized “holistic” review process. This hybrid approach is necessary because the TTPP is limited in its ability to generate student body diversity due to the effects of uneven distribution of educational opportunity across the state of Texas and the United States. The individualized review process, which considers race among many other factors, augments the shortcomings of the TTPP, which looks at only one aspect of each candidate–class rank.

The brief also highlights the extreme degree of persistent racial segregation and isolation in Texas schools. The TTPP functions in large part by channeling this underlying inter-district segregation into UT’s admitted first-year class. However, this segregation also excludes far too many Texas students from educational opportunity and quality K-12 education. The brief ties the necessity of the holistic admissions plan to the underlying realities of racial segregation throughout the state.

“This brief is unique in blending both social science and mapping analysis on how inter-district segregation generates educational inequality in the K-12 system with impacts on university admissions,” says Stephen Menendian, co-author of the brief. “We also have included deep and evidence-based analysis of how the holistic admissions plan generates greater diversity in enrollment.”

Supreme Court should reaffirm principles laid out in Grutter

By challenging UT Austin’s admissions policy, the Fisher case attacks the Supreme Court’s bedrock constitutional holding that the educational benefits of a diverse student body are a compelling interest that colleges and universities may pursue through narrowly tailored, equal opportunity policies.

“Our country’s future is at stake,” said Eva Paterson of the Equal Justice Society. “A desegregated, well-educated generation of Americans is critical to our nation’s success. To accomplish that goal, the Supreme Court should reaffirm the principles set by its 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld a race-conscious admissions policy at the University of Michigan law school and broadly affirmed the educational importance of diversity.”

In Grutter, the Supreme Court recognized that promoting diversity in higher education is a “compelling governmental interest” and required that race-conscious admissions policies be “narrowly tailored.”

UT’s holistic admissions policy is narrowly designed to consider race as only one of many factors when evaluating a student’s personal and life experiences, preserving individual assessment. But by including race, the policy accounts for circumstances in Texas resulting in structural barriers, racial residential segregation, and disparate educational opportunities for many Texas students.

Viewing racial discrimination through a social science lens

Through their brief filed today, the amici share with the Justices research that views racial discrimination through the lens of social science, as was done during Fisher’s first trip to the high court. (The authors jointly submitted an amicus brief in the first Fisher case on behalf of 13 of the nation’s leading social scientists.)

“The Supreme Court has long recognized the importance of social science when considering critical public policy issues, particularly involving racial and other forms of discrimination,” said David J. Berger, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. “In Brown v. Board of Education, the court relied on data presented by more than 30 social scientists affirming the harmful effects of segregation on blacks and whites, offered through the arguments and brief from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.”

The Court also considered social science findings in its Grutter v. Bollinger decision upholding the equal opportunity admissions of the University of Michigan Law School.

Oral argument in this case is currently scheduled for December 9, 2015.


The Equal Justice Society ( is transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts. Led by President Eva Paterson, our legal strategy aims to broaden conceptions of present-day discrimination to include unconscious and structural bias by using social science, structural analysis, and real-life experience. Currently, EJS targets its advocacy efforts on school discipline, special education, and the school-to-prison pipeline, race-conscious remedies, and inequities in the criminal justice system. The Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit also engages the arts and artists in creating work and performances that allow wider audiences to understand social justice issues and struggles.

The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society ( brings together researchers, community stakeholders, policymakers, and communicators to identify and challenge the barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society and create transformative change. The Institute serves as a national hub of a vibrant network of researchers and community partners and takes a leadership role in translating, communicating, and facilitating research, policy and strategic engagement. The Haas Institute advances research and policy related to marginalized people while essentially touching all who benefit from a truly diverse, fair, and inclusive society.

For more than 50 years, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati ( has offered a broad range of services and legal disciplines focused on serving the principal challenges faced by the management and boards of directors of business enterprises. The firm is nationally recognized as a leader in the fields of corporate governance and finance, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, securities litigation, employment law, intellectual property, and antitrust, among many other areas of law.

For more information, contact:
Allison Elgart, Equal Justice Society,
Lisa A. Davis, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati,
Stephen Menendian, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society,

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