College of Education professor to file amicus brief before U.S. Supreme Court

October 27, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The U.S. Supreme Court case of Fisher v. University of Texas is back in the news and, because of it, Liliana M. Garces, Penn State assistant professor of higher education, is back in the courts.

Garces, also a research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education at Penn State, will file her second amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief before the Supreme Court concerning that case. She first filed in 2012. She has filed two other amicus briefs on different topics as well.

The Supreme Court will examine the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ race-conscious admission policy for the second time in three years. “Back in 2012, it was somewhat surprising to many in the social science community that the court would agree to hear a case so soon after endorsing the constitutionality of the practice in 2003 with the Grutter v. Bollinger case,’’ Garces said.

“That led the social science community to come together to summarize the extensive research findings showing why Texas was justified in using race as one among many factors in admissions and the limited success of other policies it had in place, like the Top Ten Percent Plan.’’

All Texas high school students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their class can be admitted to one of the state’s public colleges and universities. But the University of Texas at Austin also uses a holistic admissions policy that considers race.

Abigail Fisher applied to UT-Austin in 2008 and was not in the top 10 percent of her class. Her application was thus considered under the race-sensitive holistic review. She was not admitted, and she opted to attend Louisiana State University, from which she has graduated, but she initiated a lawsuit against the university.

Fisher said she wasn’t admitted because of her race and that UT-Austin’s race-sensitive holistic admissions policy violated the protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

“Even if race had not been considered, her score wouldn’t have been high enough even to have gained admission, yet the court still agreed to hear the case and still found standing, so we’ll see what happens in this next round,’’ Garces said.

“Part of my work is not just about conducting research for us to better understand the kinds of policies that can expand access and educational opportunity, but also to make sure that research is actually used and has some kind of influence in other areas, in particular the legal arena because legal decisions can have a lasting impact in educational policy.’’

This particular amicus brief, Garces said, introduces the latest research that supports UT-Austin’s admissions policy and addresses the new legal issues in the case.

“As scholars who study race in education and experts in this area, we are trying to present to the court what the evidence has to say that informs the legal issues,’’ Garces said. “The court may not necessarily read these briefs, but we hope that the justices will read our brief because it will be a strong voice from the social science community coming together to support UT-Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy.

“It’s both challenging and stimulating to work on the brief because it involves working with hundreds of researchers from across the country — experts on this issue — and being the conduit who helps to communicate the work to a different audience. Legal decisions can have a very substantial impact on the work of educators and institutions and should be based on empirically grounded and scientifically tested research,’’ she said.

  • Liliana Garces

    Liliana Garces

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated November 03, 2015