Appeals Court Upholds University of Texas's Affirmative Action Policy

Abigail Fisher will likely appeal the decision.

Posted: 07/16/2014 12:20 PM EDT

In what supporters of affirmative action are calling a victory, a federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that the University of Texas at Austin can use race as a factor in admissions.

"To deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience," wrote Judge Patrick Higginbotham in the 2-1 decision for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, to the lower court last June to determine whether the university's admissions policies used race narrowly enough.

Abigail Fisher, who was denied admission to the university, is the plaintiff in the original class and claimed that its affirmative action efforts amount to racial discrimination.

Under Texas's "Top Ten Percent Plan," the top graduates of every high school in the state are guaranteed a place in the state's university system. When she applied for admission in 2008, Fisher, who is white, was not in the top 10 percent of her graduating class, which meant she had to compete with thousands of others for a spot. She argued that she'd been discriminated against to admit minority students with lower grades.

An appeal of the latest ruling is expected, but the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is applauding the decision.

"Universities are incubators for America's future leadership and for civic engagement," said LDF president Sherrilyn A. Ifill. "This decision should stand as a declaration of the ongoing importance and legality of affirmative action efforts that holistically evaluate applicants for admission in higher education."

Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.

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 (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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