WASHINGTON, D.C – Today, the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) and pro bono counsel, Hunton Andrews Kurth, LLP, and Bernabei & Kabat, PLLC, filed a petition in State District Court of Travis County, Texas to intervene in a lawsuit brought by Ed Blum and his anti-affirmative action group, Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), against the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) (SFFA v. UT-Austin). Filed on May 16, 2019—on the eve of the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board—this latest attack follows two prior, failed challenges by Blum in both federal and state courts to eliminate UT-Austin’s individualized consideration of race in its admissions program.
The Lawyers’ Committee seeks to defend the limited, but meaningful inclusion of race—as one factor amongst many factors—to increase diversity and afford opportunities to all qualified students at one of the state’s flagship universities.
The Lawyers’ Committee and co-counsel represent a diverse group of current African American, Asian American, and Latinx UT-Austin students who support race-conscious admissions and oppose SFFA’s attempt to eradicate over 40 years of established legal precedent that allows institutions to consider the race of highly-qualified applicants in the college admissions process for the purpose of building a diverse student body. In a series of written declarations to the Texas state court, the students share how their racial backgrounds are integral to understanding their full identities and outline the many benefits of racial diversity in UT-Austin’s academic and wider campus environment.
“Race-conscious admissions is a lawful and indispensable tool for ensuring that colleges and universities are accessible to students from all walks of life, including racial minorities,” said Kristen Clarke, the Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “The policy allows UT Austin and other institutions to cultivate diverse campus environments that help students bridge racial divides, increase cross-cultural understanding, and prepare for leadership in a diverse and pluralistic society.
“Race has influenced my life experience in such impactful ways that I cannot think of life without it,” said Angela Kang, a Senior at UT-Austin studying Biology in the university’s honors program. “My Asian identity has informed the way I view myself and grow into my identity. It informs my experiences with racism and sexism…I appreciated that UT valued race in admissions because race was such an important part of my identity.”
“Ed Blum seeks to erase race from the students’ identity and the college admissions process” said David Hinojosa, the Director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee. “We look forward to lifting up the voices of incredibly gifted students in this lawsuit and turning back Blum’s latest, and hopefully final, attack on diversity and opportunity at UT-Austin.”
The students also highlight the support systems that have developed as a result of policies that promote racial diversity.“As a student at UT, I am grateful that we have a strong Black community on campus,” said Brianna McBride, a Junior double majoring in Government and in Communications and Leadership. After describing racially isolating incidents on campus such as a late-night white supremacist march with tiki torches in November 2017, McBride says that she “would not be able to thrive as a student without the strength of the Black community.”
“Being around students from diverse racial backgrounds at UT has improved my ability to empathize with others because the friends I made here were willing to share their experiences with me,” said Desiree Ortega, a Junior studying Neuroscience. “Removing race as a factor in the admissions process [would amount to] erasing me as a student at UT as well as other students whose race has affected their whole lives.”
The Texas Orange Jackets, the oldest women’s service organization at UT-Austin and intervenor, explains, “The value of a UT education extends far beyond just academics: it provides a space for students to become better leaders by learning how to collaborate across difference, understand what unites us, and leverage our diverse perspectives to address today’s most important issues and better serves our communities. Race-conscious admissions allows UT – and the Orange Jackets – to better pursue this development of leadership and service.”
As recently as 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld UT-Austin’s race-conscious policy on the grounds that it “‘promotes cross-racial understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races.’” Blum revived his assault on race-conscious admissions in December 2017 by filing a lawsuit in Travis County alleging UT-Austin’s race-conscious policy violated Texas’s state constitution and statutory prohibition on discrimination. After the 2017 lawsuit was dismissed on procedural grounds, Blum and SFFA refiled a nearly identical state lawsuit in May 2019.
In addition to petitioning for intervention in this case, the Lawyers’ Committee currently represents a diverse coalition of prospective, current, and former students at Harvard and UNC who are defending their college’s right to consider race to promote racial diversity, which benefits all students (SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC).
The Petition for Intervention and accompanying Student declaration can be found here