CIR’s landmark 1996 victory against the University of Texas School of Law was the first successful legal challenge to racial preferences in student admissions since Bakke

The University of Texas at Austin Law School

Howood v. Texas is best understood as the start of a revolution in the admissions systems of schools around the country. Before Hopwood, elite colleges and universities racially engineered the mix of their students with little regard for either the law or public opinion. After Hopwood,schools scrambled to defend their use of race in admissions, often through deliberately opaque admissions systems or studies and books purporting to “prove” the necessity of affirmative action.

Like Bakke, like Brown, like Miranda, she has evolved from a person into a one-word legal principle. The Hopwood Case — officially, it’s Cheryl J. Hopwood v. The State of Texas — stands for the end of affirmative action at UT and a change in college admissions procedures across America….She was the perfect plaintiff to question the fairness of reverse discrimination. If anyone ever deserved the kind of special break that affirmative action provides, it was Cheryl Hopwood.

Texas Monthly: “Law’s New Icon: Cheryl Hopwood”

The case began in 1992, when Cheryl Hopwood was denied admission to the University of Texas Law School despite being better qualified than many admitted minority candidates. She enlisted the help of CIR to help her challenge the school’s system of racial preferences. Her lawsuit culminated in a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in her favor four years later.

The legal principle put forth by the Appeals Court is simple: the 14th Amendment forbids state universities from using race as a factor in admissions. The Supreme Court declined to review the case, for a time banning affirmative action in admissions in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

A historic decision

After the Fifth Circuit’s surprisingly forceful ruling in favor of Hopwood, legal experts declared the decision historic. Hopwood is “a ruling that could jeopardize affirmative action programs at universities across the country,” exclaimed the American Bar Association Journal

  • Click here to read The full text of the Fifth Circuit’s decision

A big step but not the last step

Although Hopwood remains an historic decision and a major victory in CIR’s effort to end race preferences nation wide, the Supreme Court later ruled that race may be a factor in admissions, subject to certain conditions.  See CIR’s cases against the University of Michigan,Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger.

Additional articles 

Case Status: Victory, later modified in Grutter v. Bollinger


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