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Hopwood v. Texas

An End To Affirmative Action?

There remained a great deal of confusion over the terms of the Hopwood ruling. Was it specific to just the University of Texas and its admission policy, which had since been revised, or did it apply to all state universities inside the jurisdiction of the Fifth Circuit--which included Mississippi and Louisiana as well? Conservatives, who favored the dismantling of affirmative action programs, asserted that the Hopwood decision applied across the board.

Just over three months after the Hopwood ruling, Texas State Attorney General Dan Morales said that the court's decision should be applied to all Texas schools, not just the University of Texas Law School. In response, Norma Cantu, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, issued a letter to lawmakers that disagreed with Morales. Cantu declared that the case only applied to the University of Texas Law School's admissions policy, and that the University of Texas system could lose up to $500 million in federal funding if it revoked its affirmative action practices in undergraduate admissions and financial aid.

Senator Phil Gramm drafted a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley stating that the Department of Education needed to revise its position, and that Cantu should retract her statement. The problem was eventually resolved when Cantu's warning was attributed to her "misinterpretation" of two separate government policy statements on the matter. The "compromise" seemed to reflect the Clinton Administration's stance on the matter: "Mend it, but don't end it," which the president proposed in a 1995 speech on affirmative action.

The Hopwood decision initiated a great deal of discussion in higher education circles, and there were numerous conferences and debates on the case over the next year. Supporters of affirmative action say that forced diversity in higher education benefits everybody--it brings more opinions and more viewpoints to classroom discussion. A year after the Hopwood ruling, statistics showed a decrease in minority applications at Texas state schools. The University of Texas Law School alone saw a 40 percent decline in minority applications. Qualified minority candidates simply applied elsewhere. Opponents of affirmative action noted that a new requirement for a written essay may have had some effect on the decrease in applications.

Affirmative action remains a divisive political issue inside for public officials. However, a U.S. News & World Report article suggests that the American public is not preoccupied with the issue. It cited a poll that showed a greater number of respondents would rather see the Internal Revenue Service abolished than affirmative action programs. In May of 1997, the Texas Senate passed a bill designed to replace affirmative action, which allowed the 35 state universities to grant automatic admission to high school graduates who finished in the top ten percent of their class. The universities would then be allowed to take into account other admission factors such as language proficiency, family educational history, and community service.

Other institutions' schemes to eliminate race as a factor in admissions have resulted in a marked change in diversity. The University of California at Berkeley reformed its admissions guidelines beginning in 1989, and witnessed a drop by 1994 in the number of Hispanics enrolled (from 21 to 17 percent) and blacks (11 to 7 percent), while the number Asian students climbed from 24 to 36 percent.

In other related developments, California voters approved Proposition 209 in late 1996. It called for an end to all of the state's affirmative action programs which had faced a series of court challenges before implementation. The law firm in the Hopwood case also challenged admission policies at the University of Michigan, taking on the case of several non-minority students who had been denied admission.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentHopwood v. Texas - Significance, Denied Admission, Millions In Damages, The Terms Of The Complaint, The Former Policy