Hopwood v. Texas

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Hopwood v. Texas
Seal of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.svg
Court United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Full case nameCheryl J. Hopwood, et al v. State of Texas, et al
DecidedMarch 18, 1996
Citation(s)78 F.3d 932; 64 USLW 2591; 107 Ed. Law Rep. 552
Case history
Prior action(s)861 F. Supp. 551 (W.D. Tex. 1994)
Subsequent action(s)Abrogated by Grutter v. Bollinger , 539 U.S. 306 (2003).
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Jerry Edwin Smith, Jacques L. Wiener, Jr., Harold R. DeMoss Jr.
Case opinions
MajoritySmith, joined by DeMoss
Laws applied
Equal Protection Clause

Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996), [1] was the first successful legal challenge to a university's affirmative action policy in student admissions since Regents of the University of California v. Bakke . [2] In Hopwood, four white plaintiffs who had been rejected from University of Texas at Austin's School of Law challenged the institution's admissions policy on equal protection grounds and prevailed. After seven years as a precedent in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the Hopwood decision was abrogated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. [3]

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit federal court

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is a federal court with appellate jurisdiction over the district courts in the following federal judicial districts:

White people is a racial classification specifier, used mostly and often exclusively for people of European descent; depending on context, nationality, and point of view. The term has at times been expanded to encompass persons of Middle Eastern and North African descent, persons who are often considered non-white in other contexts. The usage of "white people" or a "white race" for a large group of mainly or exclusively European populations, defined by their light skin, among other physical characteristics, and contrasting with "black people", Amerindians, and other "colored" people or "persons of color", originated in the 17th century. It was only during the 19th century that this vague category was transformed in a quasi-scientific system of race and skin color relations.

University of Texas at Austin public research university in Austin, Texas, United States

The University of Texas at Austin is a public research university in Austin, Texas. It was founded in 1883 and is the flagship institution of the University of Texas System. The University of Texas was inducted into the Association of American Universities in 1929, becoming only the third university in the American South to be elected. The institution has the nation's eighth-largest single-campus enrollment, with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and over 24,000 faculty and staff.


The case

After being rejected by the University of Texas School of Law in 1992, Cheryl J. Hopwood filed a federal lawsuit against the University on September 29, 1992, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Hopwood, a white female, was denied admission to the law school despite being better qualified (at least under certain metrics) than many admitted minority candidates. Originally, Hopwood's co-plaintiff was Stephanie C. Haynes, but Haynes was dismissed from the suit on February 11, 1993. Ultimately, three white males, Douglas Carvell, Kenneth Elliott, and David Rogers, joined the existing lawsuit as plaintiffs. All had better combined LSAT and grade scores than 36 of the 43 Latinos admitted, and 16 of the 18 black students admitted. [4] U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks, a 1963 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, presided over the case.

The University of Texas School of Law is one of the professional graduate schools of the University of Texas at Austin. Texas Law is consistently ranked as one of the top law schools in the United States and admits roughly 20% of its applicants. It is one of the top five public law schools in the United States. In 2018 the law school was ranked No. 15 by the U.S. News & World Report, and No. 12 by Above the Law The school is also ranked No. 1 for the biggest return on investment among all law schools in the United States.

Sam Sparks American judge

Sam Sparks is a Senior United States District Judge of the Austin Division of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Texas Monthly editor Paul Burka later described Cheryl Hopwood as "the perfect plaintiff to question the fairness of reverse discrimination" because of her academic credentials and her personal hardships (she has a young daughter suffering from a muscular disease). [5]

<i>Texas Monthly</i>

Texas Monthly or stylized as TexasMonthly is a monthly American magazine headquartered in Downtown Austin, Texas. Texas Monthly was founded in 1973 by Michael R. Levy and has been published by Emmis Publishing, L.P. since 1998 and now owned by Genesis Park, LP. Texas Monthly chronicles life in contemporary Texas, writing on politics, the environment, industry, and education. The magazine also covers leisure topics such as music, art, dining, and travel. It is a member of the City and Regional Magazine Association (CRMA).

A plaintiff is the party who initiates a lawsuit before a court. By doing so, the plaintiff seeks a legal remedy; if this search is successful, the court will issue judgment in favor of the plaintiff and make the appropriate court order. "Plaintiff" is the term used in civil cases in most English-speaking jurisdictions, the notable exception being England and Wales, where a plaintiff has, since the introduction of the Civil Procedure Rules in 1999, been known as a "claimant", but that term also has other meanings. In criminal cases, the prosecutor brings the case against the defendant, but the key complaining party is often called the "complainant".

Reverse discrimination is discrimination against members of a dominant or majority group, in favor of members of a minority or historically disadvantaged group. Groups may be defined in terms of disability, ethnicity, family status, gender identity, nationality, race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation, or other factors.

After an eight-day bench trial in May 1994, Judge Sparks issued his ruling on August 19, 1994. He determined that the University could continue to use the racial preferences which had been at issue in the litigation. [6] In his ruling, he noted that while it was "regrettable that affirmative action programs are still needed in our society", they were still "a necessity" until society could overcome its legacy of institutional racism. Thereupon, the four plaintiffs appealed the case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments in the case on August 8, 1995.

A bench trial is a trial by judge, as opposed to a trial by jury. The term applies most appropriately to any administrative hearing in relation to a summary offense to distinguish the type of trial. Many legal systems use bench trials for most or all cases or for certain types of cases.

Nearly two years after the original trial, on March 18, 1996, the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion, which was written by Circuit Judge Jerry Edwin Smith. The court held that "the University of Texas School of Law may not use race as a factor in deciding which applicants to admit in order to achieve a diverse student body, to combat the perceived effects of a hostile environment at the law school, to alleviate the law school's poor reputation in the minority community, or to eliminate any present effects of past discrimination by actors other than the law school". Judge Jacques L. Wiener, Jr., concurred. Rehearing was denied on April 4, 1996.

Jerry Edwin Smith American judge

Jerry Edwin Smith is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The University appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to review the case on July 1, 1996. In an opinion on the denial of certiorari , Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice David Souter, noted that the issue of the constitutionality of race in admission was "an issue of great national importance". [7] However, Justice Ginsburg explained that the University was no longer defending the specific admissions policy that had been at issue in the lawsuit and was rather attempting to justify only the rationale for maintaining a race-based admissions policy. Accordingly, because the Supreme Court reviews judgments and not opinions, Justice Ginsburg stated that it "must await a final judgment on a program genuinely in controversy before addressing the important question raised in this petition". Thus, the Hopwood decision became the final law of the land with respect to the use of race in admissions in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, the three states over which the Fifth Circuit has jurisdiction.

Supreme Court of the United States Highest court in the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal and state court cases that involve a point of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases, including suits between two or more states and those involving ambassadors. The Court holds the power of judicial review, the ability to invalidate a statute for violating a provision of the U.S. Constitution. It is also able to strike down presidential directives for violating either the Constitution or statutory law. However, it may act only within the context of a case in an area of law over which it has jurisdiction. The Court may decide cases having political overtones, but it has ruled that it does not have power to decide non-justiciable political questions.

Certiorari is a court process to seek judicial review of a decision of a lower court or administrative agency. The term comes from the name of an English prerogative writ, issued by a superior court to direct that the record of the lower court be sent to the superior court for review.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an American lawyer and jurist who is an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton and took the oath of office on August 10, 1993. She is the second female justice of four to be confirmed to the court. Following O'Connor's retirement, and until Sotomayor joined the court, Ginsburg was the only female justice on the Supreme Court. During that time, Ginsburg became more forceful with her dissents, which were noted by legal observers and in popular culture. She is generally viewed as belonging to the liberal wing of the court. Ginsburg has authored notable majority opinions, including United States v. Virginia, Olmstead v. L.C., and Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc.

The reaction

University officials were not pleased with the opinion. Shortly after the opinion's release, UT President Robert Berdahl predicted "the virtual resegregation of higher education," while UT System Chancellor William Cunningham noted that administrators were "saddened by the 5th Circuit's sweeping determination that Bakke is no longer the law of the land and that past discrimination and diversity no longer justify affirmative action in admissions". [8]

The Fifth Circuit's opinion catalyzed a discussion of race in admissions on campus. Faculty and students protested. For the next several years, the case was a popular topic of discussion and debate in The Daily Texan , the University's student newspaper.

The Texas legislature passed the Top Ten Percent Rule governing admissions into public colleges in the state, partly in order to mitigate some of the effects of the Hopwood decision.

Later developments

On January 15, 1997, William P. Hobby, Jr., former Lieutenant Governor of Texas and then Chancellor of the University of Houston System, sought a clarification of the application of Hopwood from Texas Attorney General Dan Morales. Specifically, Hobby questioned how the new federal jurisprudence would affect financial aid at institutions of higher education in Texas (and in particular, its effect on specific programs of the University of Houston mainly admissions to the University of Houston Law Center). On February 5, 1997, Morales issued his formal opinion in response to Hobby's request. Morales found that "Hopwood's restrictions would generally apply to all internal institutional policies, including admissions, financial aid, scholarships, fellowships, recruitment and retention, among others". [9] Thus, under the Morales interpretation, Hopwood was extended to prevent the consideration of race in areas beyond admissions.

On June 23, 2003, the Supreme Court abrogated Hopwood in Grutter v. Bollinger , in which the high court found that the United States Constitution "does not prohibit the law school's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body". [3] The ruling means that universities in the Fifth Circuit's jurisdiction can again use race as a factor in admissions (as long as quotas are not used, per Gratz v. Bollinger [10] ).

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  1. Hopwood v. Texas, 78F.3d932 (5th Cir.1996).
  2. Regents of the University of California v. Bakke , 438 U.S. 265 (1978).
  3. 1 2 Grutter v. Bollinger , 539 U.S. 306 (2003).
  4. http://www.villagevoice.com/1997-11-25/news/cheryl-hopwood-vs-state-of-texas/
  5. Burka, Paul (September 1996). "Law • Cheryl Hopwood". Texas Monthly.
  6. Hopwood v. State of Texas, 861F. Supp.551 (W.D. Tex.1994).
  7. Texas v. Hopwood, 518 U.S. 1033(1996).
  8. Merle, Renae. "Court rules against affirmative action at UT law school", Daily Texan , March 19, 1996.
  9. Tex. Atty. Gen. Op. LO-97-001, Mr. William P. Hobby (1997)
  10. Gratz v. Bollinger , 539 U.S. 244 (2003)

Further reading