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Fisher v. University of Texas (UT) at Austin is a lawsuit concerning UT’s use of diversity in its admissions process. It has twice come to the United States Supreme Court on appeal. Abigail Fisher brought suit in 2008 after she was denied admission by UT-Austin. She asked that the Supreme Court declare the university’s race-conscious admissions process inconsistent with Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), which established that race had an appropriate but limited role in higher education admissions policies. This followed the U.S. District Court upholding the legality of UT’s admission policy in a 2009 summary judgment and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit also ruling in the university’s favor. On June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court voided the lower appellate court’s ruling in favor of UT and remanded the case for further consideration, via a 7–1 decision, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting (Fisher I). The Supreme Court found that the lower court had not appropriately applied the standard of strict scrutiny articulated in Grutter, and in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), to its assessment of the UT admissions program. Fisher took Grutter and Bakke as given and did not directly revisit the constitutionality of using race as a factor in college admissions. Applying the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision, the Fifth Circuit once again found for UT in 2014. Fisher again appealed the Fifth Circuit’s decision, and the Supreme Court again agreed to hear her appeal (Fisher II). The Supreme Court heard oral argument in Fisher II on Dec. 9, 2015, and on June 23, 2016, voted 4-3 to uphold UT’s admissions policy. (ACE, 2019)
(Daily Texan, 2013)
The prominent case of Fisher v. University of Texas (UT) at Austin could have been heard in either the Federal or State Court. Affirmative action is a national policy that exists not only within the education system; but is prevalent in hiring practices of all business and corporations throughout the United States. The controversial subject has persisted to remain one of the most highly contested topics in society. The State Court system could provide an immediate decision that declares the course of action for the university located within their jurisdiction. Based on the substantial impact of any decision regarding affirmative action within the college application process; Federal Court is probably the optimal location because the issue is a nationwide concern. Similar to when affirmative action policies were implemented and enforced through the government; regulations had to emanate from a national level. Any alterations and modifications to the established practice of affirmative action should be heard and evaluated by the Federal Court.
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The state court is characterized as the court of general jurisdiction and Federal court is designated as having limited jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is one of the main distinctions between the two courts. The jurisdiction of the Federal courts is not as elaborate as that of the state courts. The Federal court deals with fewer cases and matters related to the national interests while the State deals with a greater number of cases. The Federal court mainly deals with federal concerns; federal tax offenses, drug trafficking, trafficking of firearms, robbery of federally insured banks, disputes between states, bankruptcy, and cases related to treaties and laws of the country. (DB, 2019)
Federal courts were established under the U.S. Constitution to decide disputes involving the Constitution and laws passed by Congress. There can be a situation where the forms of conduct are illegal under state and federal laws. The US has federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination, as well as the states which have added their own laws that also forbid employment discrimination. A person can go to either federal or state court to bring a case under the federal law or both the federal and state laws. A state-law-only case can be brought only in state court. (FindLaw, 2019)
The legal basis for affirmative action in the United States; in which this case can be brought is the Equal Protection Clause, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and various Executive Orders that have addressed the topic in response to legislative and societal pressures. In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy directed the executive branch to equalize rights amongst individuals through affirmative action programs. In Executive Order 10925, President Kennedy decreed that certain employers “will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, other Executive Orders referenced the concept President Kennedy raised to encourage employers to level the playing field in the employment context. (Law Shelf, 2019)
The Civil Rights Act along with Equal Protection Clause were cited as the legal basis and argument for the plaintiffs within the case of Fisher v. University of Texas (UT). As classified under United States law, equal protection is the constitutional guarantee that no person or group will be denied the protection under the law that is enjoyed by similar persons or groups. Equal protection is extended when the rules of law are applied equally in all like cases and when persons are exempt from obligations greater than those imposed upon others in like circumstances. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, one of three amendments adopted in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War (1861–65), prohibits states from denying to any person “the equal protection of the laws.” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019)
(The Daily Texan, 2013)
Although Fisher may not have been personally triumphant within her legal battles with the University of Texas; her litigation was the inception towards officials reconsidering the affirmative action policies within admissions. In 2019 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center through an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education decided to cease admissions decisions based upon race and ethnicity. The results of this decision went into effect in February 2019 culminating from a fourteen-year investigation of the Lubbock-based school. Lubbock is part of the Texas Tech University System but operates independently of the university. Their programs are comprised of medical, pharmacy and nursing schools. The case commenced in 2005 through the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights after two groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court cases discovered universities were using race as a factor in certain circumstances pertaining to their admissions process. (Texas Tribune, 2019)
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Subject matter jurisdiction denotes that there are specific courts established to hear cases concerning particular types of claims. Non-criminal cases within Federal court fall into two additional types of court jurisdiction; diversity jurisdiction and federal question jurisdiction. Diversity jurisdiction grants authority to the courts to hear cases related to disputes involving parties that live in different states. Federal question jurisdiction permits Federal district courses to examine cases pertaining to Constitutional rights and federal law. (Legal Dictionary, 2019) Personal jurisdiction refers to the power that a court has to make a decision regarding the party being sued in a case. Before a court can exercise power over a party, the U.S. Constitution requires that the party has certain minimum contacts with the forum in which the court sits. (Cornell Law School, 2019)
Historically, courts have applied an exception to the assertion of general personal jurisdiction over institutions of higher education. Under this exception, courts refuse to exercise general personal jurisdiction over colleges and universities merely because they engage in activities that are typical for such institutions, such as out-of-state recruitment, fundraising, alumni events, and symposia. These types of activities have been deemed insufficient to confer general personal jurisdiction. When a college or university has a registered agent in a state other than the one where the institution is primarily located, however, courts are split on whether the college and university exception remains applicable. Further, the case law is developing and somewhat uncertain with respect to the impact that engaging in distance learning has on the jurisdictional analysis. Although institutions that have both “brick and mortar” campuses plus online educational offerings seem to enjoy the traditional college and university exception, there is little case law concerning online-only institutions, so clear principles have not yet been set. (NACUA Notes, 2018)
A recent case that is more significant to the troubles among college admissions is the bribery scandal of 2019. Wealthy parents and guardians were charged with committing criminal conspiracy in order to influence top universities’ admissions officials, so their children could be admitted to prestigious universities outside of the standards of admissions selection criteria. Federal prosecutors alleged a college-admission scheme that involved bribing exam administrators, facilitating cheating on entrance exams, bribing coaches and administrators of elite universities to nominate unqualified applicants as elite recruited athletes, and using charitable organizations to conceal the source and nature of laundered bribery payments. (Wikipedia, 2019) These allegations have created an uproar from applicants who were rejected from these prestigious universities.
The college admissions bribery case warrants the U.S legal system and government to resolve this unethical and criminal situation. The affirmative action defense in my opinion is a waste of hard-earned income of taxpayers and court officials time. Abigail Fisher needed to accept the college admissions rejection and move on with her life. She was an honor roll student who had good grades and a respectable SAT score but nothing exceptional. Several other factors are taken into consideration when applying for colleges. Participation in clubs, athletics, volunteer work, and other activities that demonstrate character are also reviewed in the application process. It wasn’t a blatant disregard of her application due to affirmative action quotas being fulfilled by the university.
Post- college when graduates enter the real world they’ll abruptly recognize the hardships endured in seeking employment in a highly competitive market. When Abigail’s preferred corporations pass on her services; is Abigail going threaten litigation for unfair hiring policies on the same affirmative action basis. Paying your dues and development through experience are lessons people look to ignore and feel education is the pathway to top positions instantaneous after graduation..
An advantage we are fortunate to possess in the Unites States; is that there are a plethora of universities and institutions where we can obtain further education. Rejection is part of the process and an important lesson for prospective students. Abigail’s family should have provided better guidance to their daughter and encouraged her to move on and explore other avenues. As we realize with the bribery scandal the moral compass of parents can undoubtedly be compromised when it comes to the education system and their children. There are some students who go to Cornell while others go to Caldwell. That unfortunately is part of life.
Due to the recent outbreak of violations in athletic recruiting, sexual assaults of students by faculty, and the issues involving bribing admissions officials; the whole NCAA and college system is in dire need of an overhaul. Stronger rules and regulations will be put in place to curb this streak of unethical behavior. If the government feels that a quota system is an outdated policy this would be the time to reassess how far we have come as a society and determine if affirmative action is necessary in the college application process.
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