YP4’14 Cortney Sanders Explains What’s At Stake in Fisher v. UT Austin

Posted December 9, 2015 by Erik Lampmann

On Wednesday, December 9th, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. UT Austin II, the second iteration of a landmark case on universities’ abilities to employ affirmative action policies when selecting from their undergraduate applicant pools. As we wait for transcripts from today’s arguments, YP4 wanted to take a step back and ask one of our own, YP4 ’14 Cortney Sanders, to talk about her work filing an amicus curiae brief in the first iteration of Fisher.


 

Can you describe the role you played as a student representative of the Black Student Alliance in Fisher I?

I employed my leadership skills and pioneered the filing of an amicus brief in favor of UT’s admission policy with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for the Black Student Alliance. On October 10, 2012, I was a student representative for the Fisher vs. The University of Texas case. In helping the Black Student Alliance file an amicus brief in support of UT, I spent hours working with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers learning about the admissions policy and developing a strategy to defend it. On campus, I organized student forums and panels with other student leaders and gave talks about the lawsuit in detail. Before going to Washington DC for the hearing, I wrote an op-ed piece for our school newspaper, the Daily Texan. The op-ed focused on the importance of diversity on campus and in our future careers. In my conclusion, I reminded readers of The University of Texas at Austin’s history of exclusion and urged them to support the inclusive policies we’ve enacted to right those wrongs.

 

Can you briefly explain why Fisher is back at the Court?

In Fisher I, the Supreme Court merely restated the requirements of existing precedent and instructed the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to re-evaluate the program with the correct standard. Now, in Fisher II, the Supreme Court will evaluate whether the Court of Appeal’s re-approval of the University admission policy can be sustained. This will likely be a review of whether the U.S. Court of Appeals properly applied the “strict scrutiny” standard, and the Court could itself perform a strict scrutiny analysis of the UT program. Thus, the Court’s decision in Fisher II will likely only directly affect the admissions process at UT. (Citation of NAACP LDF)

In general, everyone should care about this court case if they are in college, plan to attend college, or have a stake in higher education. As a matter of policy and practice, the Court’s evaluation of the UT program in Fisher II is likely to impact programs across the nation as colleges and universities work to comply with any new review standards articulated by the Court.

As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Fisher II, what are some of the most important things to watch for?

The Supreme Court reiterated its holding that diversity is a compelling interest when it first heard this case in 2012. This time around we are talking about the standards of the court. People should pay attention to the past opinions and the swing vote, Justice Kennedy.

Also, watch for the mobilization of colleges and universities that are also concerned about diversity and inclusion. This is the perfect time for progressive youth to support each other and host forums about the case. Whatever the decision, every college student will be effected from policy to emotional potentials.

Would Fisher have been admitted to UT but for its consideration of race in admissions?

According to UT, Fisher would not have been admitted to UT’s Fall 2008 freshman class even if UT had not considered race as one factor among many in its holistic review. Abigail Fisher applied for admission in Business Administration or Liberal Arts. She had a combined SAT score of 1180 out of 1600 and a cumulative 3.59 GPA. Because Fisher was not in the top 10% of her high school class, her application was considered in the holistic review process. Petitioner’s Academic Index (a combination of her high school GPA and SAT scores) was 3.1, and she received a Personal Achievement Index score of less than 6 (the actual score is contained in a sealed brief, ECF No. 52). Due to the stiff competition in 2008 and Fisher’s relatively low Academic Index, UT states that she would not have been admitted to the Fall 2008 freshman class even if she had received a perfect PAI score of 6. Fisher attended and recently graduated from Louisiana State University(Citation NAACP LDF).

Why do Courts Matter to you?

Courts matter because it is an opportunity to hear both sides of the story. Courts yield a platform that allows voices to be heard that often are not at the table. Fisher is an average student with a personal concern, the courts, allows her to be a representative to a massive voice and her ideas become important. This has been the case for several cases in the past and I think that is what makes the courts special. The UT Black Students Alliance along with other organizations, companies, and groups now have a voice in the legal system. The values that we give our democracy are highlighted when we use political structures such as Courts. In general, the courts are one way to get the issue out to the public when no other venue is listening.