Federal court rejects attempt to overturn landmark Hopwood decision on racial preferences

A federal appeals court has again rejected a request to reconsider its landmark 1996 ruling in Hopwood v. Texas, holding that the University of Texas School of Law’s racial preferences violated the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. Texas attempted to re-litigate the issue before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, but was rebuffed last month. The state then asked the entire Fifth Circuit to rehear the issue, but its request was refused last week. Not a single judge on the court voted in favor of the rehearing.

The January 17 decision is part of an eight-year court battle in which rejected white applicants, two of whom were represented by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), sued the University of Texas School of Law for racial discrimination. The decision is seen as a blow to the rationale advanced by many of the nation’s top universities to justify the use of racial preferences in admissions, namely the desire to achieve a diverse student body. That rationale was among the defenses proffered and rejected by the University of Texas School of Law.

Michael Rosman, CIR’s General Counsel, expressed hope today that the state of Texas would finally accept the judgment of the courts. “Texas is going to have to learn to live with the fact that it cannot use diversity as an excuse for admissions preferences based on skin color,” he said.

In last week’s decision, the Fifth Circuit also declined to rehear two other issues. The state, as well as the plaintiffs, appealed the trial court’s determination of attorneys’ fees, and the plaintiffs appealed their award of one dollar in damages. However, the three-judge panel affirmed those rulings last month, and the entire Fifth Circuit has now declined to reconsider those questions.

CIR, along with Theodore Olson and Douglas Cox of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C., represent Hopwood plaintiffs Cheryl Hopwood and Douglas Wade Carvell. CIR is a national public interest law firm specializing in civil rights, First Amendment issues, and constitutional limits on federal power. CIR has directly litigated and won important Supreme Court cases in each of these areas.

Photo: Court Room for the Fifth Circuit Court of appeals