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The Texas Index is calculated from each applicant's undergraduate grade point average and score on the Law School Admission Test. This is the best single predictor of academic success at the law school, it has always carried substantial weight in the admissions process, and much of the plaintiffs' case focused on this Index. But the Index was never dispositive; the law school has never simply admitted the 500 highest Texas Index scores. It had always considered other predictors of academic success and other sources of student diversity, including undergraduate school and major, letters of recommendation, socio-economic background, indications of hard work and persistence, hardships overcome, and the like. Before the 1996 decision in Hopwood v. Texas, this list of factors included race.
After that decision, race was taken off the list, the whole process carefully evaluated, and the list of other diversity factors was expanded. These changes are reflected in the law school's current admissions policy.
Before 1996, when race was part of the process, how did it work? The judicial findings clearly show three things about affirmative action at Texas:
A Comparison: The University of Texas School of Law has a preference for Texas residents -- actually a hard quota. Each class must be at least 80% Texan. That means it is a lot easier to be admitted if you are a Texan than if you apply from out of state. But it doesn't mean that the law school admits unqualified Texans. It means that from among the most highly qualified applicants, the law school admits more of the residents than of the nonresidents.
Affirmative action for race was similar, except that the preference was smaller and the law school never had a quota. Among the most highly qualified applicants, there are always a substantial number of minorities. They have grades and test scores in the same range as other applicants who were admitted. The difference was that before Hopwood, the law school would admit nearly all the minorities in that range, and only some of the other applicants.
Sources: Opinions of U.S. District Court, Hopwood v. Texas, 861 F. Supp. 554 (W.D. Tex. 1994), and 999 F. Supp. 872 (W.D. Tex. 1998). For "A Comparison," Professor Douglas Laycock, the University of Texas School of Law.