Two Caucasian females applied to the University of Texas at Austin and were denied admission. They filed a lawsuit, arguing that the university had discriminated against them based on their race. UT accepted students in the top 10 percent of each Texas high school graduating class, regardless of their race. This is referred to as the “Top Ten Percent Plan.” Applicants who did not graduate in the top 10 percent could gain admission by scoring highly on UT’s “Academic Index,” which was a holistic review that considered numerous factors, including race. The plaintiffs were not in the top 10 percent of their class and argued that UT’s consideration of race as part of its holistic review process discriminated against them and other Caucasian applicants.

Initially, the district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the admissions policy was acceptable. When the plaintiffs first appealed to the United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court returned the case to the Fifth Circuit to reconsider its decision and determine whether the university had shown a compelling interest in using race as an admissions factor. The Fifth Circuit again found in favor of UT’s admissions policy. That decision also was appealed to the Supreme Court.

In its latest (and most likely final) decision in June 2016, the United States Supreme Court agreed that UT’s race-conscious admissions policy is constitutional, that it does not violate an applicant’s right to equal protection, and that the university can consider race as a factor in the admissions process. The Court found that “consideration of race has had a meaningful … effect on the diversity of the university’s freshman class” and that the plaintiffs had not offered any better way that UT could have improved upon its efforts to achieve greater diversity without considering race (for example, by expanding the Top Ten Percent Rule).

According to the Supreme Court, the reason that race may be considered in college admissions is not to ensure that the university enrolls a certain number of minority students, but rather so that all students may experience the educational benefits obtained from student body diversity. The court described the university’s goals in that pursuit as “concrete and precise” and noted that they were geared toward ending stereotypes, promoting cross-racial understanding, preparing students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society, and cultivating leaders. These are the types of the compelling interests the Supreme Court has approved in prior cases.

Ultimately, the court concluded that UT has an ongoing obligation to use available data “to assess whether changing demographics have undermined the need for a race-conscious policy, and to identify the effects, both positive and negative, of the affirmative-action measures it deems necessary.”