SALT Files Amicus Brief in Fisher v. Texas Supporting University Diversity Efforts

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Nov. 6, 2015 — The Society of American Law Teachers (“SALT”) has filed a friend-of-the-court (amicus curiae) brief in support of the respondents in the United States Supreme Court case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.  The brief was completed and filed thanks to the pro bono help of the international law firm Morrison & Foerster and SALT members who formed a committee to work on the brief.

In the Fisher case, undergraduate student Abigail Fisher was denied admission into the University of Texas at Austin. Fisher, a white woman, claims that she was rejected from the university based on racial discrimination due to the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action admissions program. The University of Texas at Austin holds that their holistic admissions process, taking into account many factors, including race, is constitutional.

“This is a critical case because of the impact it could have on the law school pipeline,” said SALT Co-President Olympia Duhart, a professor at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law. “Our efforts on this amicus brief are just one of SALT’s many efforts to make the legal profession more inclusive,” added SALT Co-President Ruben Garcia, a professor of law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The group of SALT members who worked on the brief included professors Duhart (Nova), Garcia (UNLV), Benjamin Davis (Toledo), Meera Deo (Thomas Jefferson), Vinay Harpalani (Savannah), Jay Rosner, Esq., Nareissa Smith (NCCU) and Kaimipono Wenger (Thomas Jefferson).  Three law students from Nova Southeastern also assisted with research on the project:  Frederick J. Pye III, Ashley Gantt-Mitchell and Jennie Marroquin.

Law school professors, deans, librarians, and administrators from more than 200 law schools make up SALT’s membership. SALT’s mission is to “make the legal profession more inclusive and reflective of the great diversity of this nation.” SALT understands the most effective way to achieve their mission and make collegiate, graduate, and professional academic programs more representative of our Nation’s diverse population is by utilizing holistic admissions processes. These processes should include the incorporation of race-consciousness as one of many factors contributing to admission decisions. Since the Court’s decision in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), positive steps toward diversity have been realized. However, there are still underrepresented races at all levels of higher education. Until this imbalance is corrected, race-conscious affirmative-action plans remain a necessity. Therefore, SALT lends its support to race-conscious admission policies before the Court, as they have in four previous cases.  SALT’s commitment to its core values of diversity, justice and teaching excellence create a solid foundation for its support of initiatives in higher education that promote diversity in the classroom.

SALT’s support of diversity in legal education has not been limited to the filing of briefs amicus curiae. It hmorourke@bu.eduas organized many scholarly conferences; supported studies of bias in standardized testing, including the LSAT and state bar exams; created pipeline programs to mentor diverse minorities, including young academics, law students, and potential law students; and led efforts to assure financial support for low-income law students.

The issues raised regarding race-consciousness are of particular concern to SALT and its membership. Although the case is focused on undergraduate admissions, SALT recognizes that each law school’s ability to admit a strong and diverse entering class is directly tied to the pool of available college graduates. A ruling against the University of Texas would result in public universities across the nation abandoning race-conscious admission programs, and thus create a dramatic decrease in racially diverse undergraduate students. In turn, the pool of graduates entering the legal profession, government services, and positions of leadership in the private sector will not reflect the diverse talents, resources, and capabilities of this Nation. Therefore, SALT finds that its mission to make the legal profession one of inclusivity and diversity aligns with the University of Texas’ holistic admissions process, accounting for race as one of many factors contributing toward admission decisions.
The Court will hear oral arguments in Fisher on December 9, 2015. SALT expects the Court’s decision in the case sometime next year. In the meantime, SALT will post updates about the case and pro-diversity efforts in higher education throughout the country on its website, and social media accounts.