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Hopwood v. Texas

The Lawsuit

Cheryl Hopwood and the other plaintiffs applied for admission to the Law School in 1992.  They had high grades and test scores, and they alleged that they would have been admitted but for the Law School's preference for minority applicants.  The Law School said they had weak majors at weak undergraduate institutions, and that with or without affirmative action, they would not have been admitted.  The applicants sued the State of Texas and various officials of The University of Texas and of the Law School in their official capacities.  (For convenience, I refer to all the defendants collectively as "the Law School.")  Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the Law School's admissions policy was unconstitutional, an injunction against further use of that policy, and money damages for having been denied admission.

The Law School admitted that it had preferred minority applicants, but it insisted that it had done so for compelling reasons -- to achieve and maintain desegregation of legal education in Texas, to remedy past discrimination in public education, and to ensure diversity in its classrooms.

Plaintiffs emphasized that if some minority applicants were preferentially admitted on the basis of race, an equal number of white applicants were denied admission on the basis of race.  That is a mathematical fact, which the Law School did not dispute.  The Law School acknowledged that affirmative action has costs, but it insisted that those costs were justified by the compelling reasons for the program and it argued that the costs were thinly spread over a substantial part of the applicant pool; a properly run affirmative action plan has only a minuscule effect on any particular white applicant's chances for admission.

As it happened, in 1992 the Law School had created a separate committee to review minority applications.  This two-committee system became the subject of much criticism later, but neither side thought the dispute was about the administrative details of the program, and neither did the Court of Appeals.  The Law School's Admissions Committee in 1992 thought that two committees would lead to a fairer and more accurate process.  Consolidating consideration of minority files made it easier to identify the strongest minority applicants, and easier to enforce uniform limits on the magnitude of racial preferences.

For their part, the plaintiffs objected to any degree of racial preference, however it might be administered.  The Court of Appeals in the first appeal adopted the plaintiffs' position.  The two-committee system was thus irrelevant to the sweeping decision of the Court of Appeals, and it was irrelevant to the plaintiffs' decision to sue.  But the two-committee system did have procedural consequences along the way. 


The Lawsuit

The First Trial and Appeal

The Second Trial and Appeal

The End

Douglas Laycock 

November 2001