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Hopwood: the first victory in a long war


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

Hopwood 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.

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

  Q: How did the University of Texas Law School's admissions system work and why was it unconstitutional?

A: The Law School used a "Texas Index" score as the primary criterion for admission. Candidates from preferred racial groups were admitted under explicitly lower standards. Such a "dual-track" system has already been held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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 more.


Click here to read The full text of the Fifth Circuit's decision (PDF, 98K)


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, Hopwood has been surpassed in importance by CIR's later cases against the University of Michigan, Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. These cases against Michigan's undergraduate college and its law school respectively, raised many of the same legal questions as Hopwood. However, unlike Hopwood, Gratz and Grutter were reviewed by the Supreme Court, and hence, the high court's opinion's in those cases supercede the 5th Circuit ruling in Hopwood. For more information on Gratz and Grutter visit CIR's Michigan information page.


Read more about Cheryl Hopwood

Texas Monthly profiles Hopwood after her stunning court victory.

  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.

Click here to read the full article.


Additional articles


Burka, Paul. "Is Affirmative Action Doomed?" The New Republic, Oct. 17, 1994, p. 25


Morgan, Richard E. "Limits to Diversity." City Journal, 1996 Summer, p. 11


Tell, David. "Diversity Strikes Out." The Weekly Standard, April 1, 1996, p. 9


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