Thursday, June 23, 2016

Third time is the charm

And before anybody tries to tell me Abigail Fisher had a justiciable claim because the 5th Circuit said so:

No.  Just, no:

Except there's a problem. The claim that race cost Fisher her spot at the University of Texas isn't really true.

In the hundreds of pages of legal filings, Fisher's lawyers spend almost no time arguing that Fisher would have gotten into the university but for her race.

If you're confused, it is no doubt in part because of how Blum, Fisher and others have shaped the dialogue as the case worked its way to the country's top court.

Journalists and bloggers have written dozens of articles on the case, including profiles of Fisher and Blum. News networks have aired panel after panel about the future of affirmative action. Yet for all the front-page attention, angry debate and exchanges before the justices, some of the more fundamental elements of the case have been little reported.

Race probably had nothing to do with the University of Texas's decision to deny admission to Abigail Fisher.

In 2008, the year Fisher sent in her application, competition to get into the crown jewel of the Texas university system was stiff. Students entering through the university's Top 10 program — a mechanism that granted automatic admission to any teen who graduated in the upper 10 percent of his or her high school class — claimed 92 percent of the in-state spots.

Fisher said in news reports that she hoped for the day universities selected students "solely based on their merit and if they work hard for it." But Fisher failed to graduate in the top 10 percent of her class, meaning she had to compete for the limited number of spaces up for grabs.

She and other applicants who did not make the cut were evaluated based on two scores. One allotted points for grades and test scores. The other, called a personal achievement index, awarded points for two required essays, leadership, activities, service and "special circumstances." Those included socioeconomic status of the student or the student's school, coming from a home with a single parent or one where English wasn't spoken. And race.

Those two scores, combined, determine admission.

Even among those students, Fisher did not particularly stand out. Court records show her grade point average (3.59) and SAT scores (1180 out of 1600) were good but not great for the highly selective flagship university. The school's rejection rate that year for the remaining 841 openings was higher than the turn-down rate for students trying to get into Harvard.

As a result, university officials claim in court filings that even if Fisher received points for her race and every other personal achievement factor, the letter she received in the mail still would have said no.

It's true that the university, for whatever reason, offered provisional admission to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were black or Latino. Forty-two were white.

Neither Fisher nor Blum mentioned those 42 applicants in interviews. Nor did they acknowledge the 168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher's who were also denied entry into the university that year. Also left unsaid is the fact that Fisher turned down a standard UT offer under which she could have gone to the university her sophomore year if she earned a 3.2 GPA at another Texas university school in her freshman year. (emphasis added)

Abigail Fisher was never going to attend UT-Austin; not ever.

This case was largely tried in the press, where standards of evidence are notoriously poor.  The real shame is that this case lasted as long as it did.  The saving grace, in all honesty, is that Antonin Scalia was not still alive to issue an opinion based on his obvious racial bias, expressed at the oral arguments that led to this decision.

The legal genius behind this case was the same lawyer who got Chief Justice Roberts to declare the Year of Jubilee and pronounce the Voting Rights Act no longer necessary (and damned inconvenient, to boot!).  May this decision be taken as a sign that the year of Jubilee is short lived.


  1. I understand Kagan recused herself, again. I wonder if she has the record on recusals. I wonder how many more times she'll do that.

    The media exposes its racist bias in these cases over and over again. They certainly don't have any intention of racial diversity in the media.

  2. I have to reiterate that Justice Alito (whose racial bias was pointed out by Sen. Kennedy in Alito's confirmation hearings) focussed on race as the only important factor in this case, even though it wasn't even a factor at all.

    Which tells you a lot about race in America, and about affirmative action.