NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Department of Education Challenges Court Ruling on Affirmative Action

March 26, 1997

Despite federal court rulings that affirmative action is no longer permissible, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has threatened to take away $500 in higher education funding unless Texas pursues affirmative action policies in its university system.

  • In a letter on March 18, the department told Texas officials they must aggressively pursue affirmative action programs to attract minorities.
  • The Education Department's statement directly contradicts the Texas Attorney General's directive that an earlier decision, in the Hopwood reverse-discrimination case, had the effect of barring any use of race in admissions and scholarships at state colleges and universities.
  • In the Hopwood case, a three-judge panel said that affirmative action as approved by the Supreme Court in the landmark 1978 Bakke decision was no longer permissible.

In 1992, Cheryl Hopwood and three other white law-school applicants at the University of Texas claimed they were denied admission because affirmative action policies gave unfair preferences to less qualified minority applicants. The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans agreed -- saying the law school "may not use race as a factor" in admissions, "even for the wholesome purpose of correcting perceived racial imbalance in the student body."

The Supreme Court let the ruling stand, leaving it in effect only in the Fifth Circuit (Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi).

Legal experts expect the matter may have to be resolved by the Supreme Court. They also expect state officials to abide by the Hopwood decision and avoid affirmative action programs.

Source: Peter Applebome, "Texas Is Told to Keep Affirmative Action in Universities or Risk Losing Federal Aid," New York Times, March 26, 1997.


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