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How (Not) to Bring an Affirmative-Action Challenge

24 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2012 Last revised: 2 Oct 2012

Adam D. Chandler

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: October 1, 2012


A little-known fact about the biggest Supreme Court case of the Term is that it is botched beyond repair. This Essay describes a series of grave defects in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the potentially momentous affirmative-action case, that should prevent the Supreme Court from reaching its merits.

The argument boils down to this: The only relief still available to Fisher is a refund of her application fees. Texas could therefore moot the case for a tiny sum. Regardless, the Eleventh Amendment and Title VI jurisprudence bar recovery of the fees. In addition, there are three defects in Fisher’s standing to claim the fees. The potential routes to resuscitating the case are fraught and unconvincing. And if, despite all that, the Court reaches the merits, the Justices will find the case a much narrower dispute than they might have expected.

Whether dismissed as improvidently granted (this Essay's recommendation) or decided on its merits, Fisher should not herald the end of affirmative action for America’s colleges and universities. If that was the aim of the Justices who voted to grant certiorari, they could not have selected a faultier vehicle for obtaining that result.

Keywords: affirmative action, standing, mootness, justiciability, Title VI, Eleventh Amendment, sovereign immunity, remedies, federal jurisdiction, diversity

Suggested Citation

Chandler, Adam D., How (Not) to Bring an Affirmative-Action Challenge (October 1, 2012). Yale Law Journal, Vol. 122, 2012. Available at SSRN:

Adam Chandler (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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