(Austin, Texas)//State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), released the following statement regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming oral argument in Fisher v. University of Texas (UT).
“This week, the US Supreme Court begins a debate that could fundamentally alter the future of higher education in Texas and, potentially, how all business is conducted in the United States. That may sound like hyperbole, but with the court deciding to re-consider the legality of affirmative action and, with the new severely conservative majority, many of us fear laws guaranteeing equal opportunity for all will be tossed aside.
“That the court even took up the case less than a decade after seemingly deciding this issue is cause for concern. It is certainly not unprecedented for the court to take up an issue so soon, but it is rare and troubling.
“Like many here today, I signed on to the amicus brief filed in defense of the University of Texas’ admissions program because it is imperative that we continue to fight to ensure access and opportunity in higher education. It is important to make your voice heard on important issues such as this, rally the troops and demonstrate that this issue is not just a cold, sterile legal debate in hallowed halls, but has a real impact on people’s lives and the future of our state.
“A reversal will have a devastating impact, and anyone who says otherwise is simply not telling the truth. We already have an example. In the mid-1990s, the Hopwood decision banned consideration of race in Texas admissions decisions, and diversity at our college campuses plummeted. The 1997-98 freshman class at the University of Texas at Austin saw African American admissions drop 28 percent. Of the 500 students enrolled at the UT Law School that year, only four were black and 25 were Hispanic. Overall, African American enrollment at all public law schools fell nearly 25 percent between 1996 and 1997, and the percentage of African Americans freshmen at UT Law was lower than when it was desegregated in 1946! If the Supreme Court overturns UT’s admissions policies, we will see campuses that do not reflect a state as diverse as Texas. Texas is even more diverse today than it was in the mid-1990s. We are now a minority-majority state, so anything that essentially gives a pass for widespread disparity is going to have that much more of a negative impact on communities of color.
“I fear a negative ruling could have an impact far beyond only higher education, rolling back progress on a number of fronts. My concern is that the court could rule broadly and ban any use of affirmative action at all, fundamentally altering how all business is conducted in the United States. Given the travesty of the Citizens United decision — which overturned a century of campaign finance law and has allowed those with the deepest pockets to have the deepest impact on our elections — I fear the worst.
“Whenever the debate turns to race nearly everyone concedes racism in America still exists, but only in the abstract, not in specific, real-world terms. That’s bunk. The sad truth is the impact of race continues to be a major factor in whether one succeeds or fails in this nation. Not the factor, but still a major factor.
“For instance, African Americans are less than 12 percent of the Texas population but make up over 35 percent of our prison population and nearly 40 percent of those on death row. Enrollment at some of our top public universities remains highly segregated. African Americans make up only 4.7 percent of the enrolled students at UT, and just 2.9 percent at A&M.
“Race and poverty are sadly still intertwined. In Texas, the poverty rate is nearly 20 percent, but 35 percent for African Americans, compared to only 13 percent for Anglos. Though the problem is particularly pernicious in the Deep South, race and poverty remain major issues all across the country. For instance, the poverty rate of African Americans in Michigan exceeds that for those living in Texas, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama. New York has a slightly higher African American poverty rate than South Carolina.
“The issue of race continues to be linked with opportunity in Texas and our country. It plays a key role in our society and we cannot just pretend that the legitimate progress made in the last several decades means equality of opportunity has been achieved and no more action needs to be taken.
“I pray the Supreme Court will recognize the wisdom of its prior decision, because we cannot afford to roll back the clock on a half century of progress.”