It has been a long, litigious road from Heman Sweatt, an African-American mail carrier who wanted to attend the prestigious, all-White law school at the University of Texas at Austin in 1946, to Abigail Fisher, a White high school student who failed to win undergraduate admission to the same university a half-century later.
Depending on what the U.S. Supreme Court decides after hearing arguments this fall, the cases of Sweatt and Fisher may prove to be bookends in the battle over affirmative action at the flagship institution of the University of Texas system, a battle with wide ramifications for minority admissions to public colleges across the country.
Sweatt's battle began when his application was rejected solely based on race. Unsuccessfully pursuing his goal in the state courts, he told the Houston Informer, "All I can say is that I still want ONE SEAT in the university's law school." Meanwhile, the Legislature scurried to create an all-Black alternative, the unaccredited School of Law at Texas State University for Negroes.
With the backing of the NAACP, Sweatt turned to the …