Cheryl Hopwood has worked since she was old enough to lug a bag
of newspapers. She watched her single mother juggle three jobs. She
put herself through college while struggling to pay for her
handicapped daughter's expensive care.
America, in her eyes, is a meritocracy.
Ms. Hopwood had little doubt, then, that her high grades and
test scores would earn her a spot in the at the University of Texas
law school. It did not matter to her that she was white. Her
accomplishments, she believed, spoke for themselves.
Today her name is on the lips of judges and lawmakers in Texas
and across the US. After her application was denied in 1992, she
became the lead plaintiff in a suit challenging the school's policy
of giving preference to less qualified minorities.
Her case has become a central symbol of the wrenching debate on
affirmative action and is changing the face of public higher
education in Texas. Legislators have moved to tighten scholarship
preferences and are scrambling to find other ways to foster
diversity. Ultimately, Hopwood's case could provide the definitive
answer to a fundamental American question: What role, if any, race
should play in determining a person's access to taxpayer-funded
"We have learned in this country of the harm that racial
discrimination does," Hopwood said in a rare public statement at
the Claremont Institute in Claremont, Calif. "We changed our
Constitution so that government may not select winners and losers
on the basis of skin color. That is the law, and it is the only
fair way for our government to deal with all of its citizens."
Although the US Supreme Court refused to hear Hopwood's case, it
has issued a series of rulings in recent years which conclude the
only legitimate goal of a preferential admissions policy is to
redress past grievances toward specific groups, and not promote
diversity for its own sake.
The last major Supreme Court ruling on the matter was the 1978
Bakke case which held that rigid quotas for minorities were
unconstitutional, but that race could be used as one of many
factors in offering admission to public universities and graduate
Hopwood's suit, brought by Texas lawyer Steven Smith in
conjunction with the Center for Individual Rights in Washington,
alleged that in many cases, the University of Texas (UT) law school
used race as the primary factor in granting admission and financial
aid. Her lawyers argued that UT's practices of color-coding files
by race, maintaining segregated waiting lists, and judging
minorities by lower academic standards were discriminatory and
Last year, a federal judge in the Fifth Circuit of appeals ruled
in favor of Hopwood's suit, and a subsequent legal opinion by Texas
Attorney General Dan Morales prohibits public universities here
from considering race as a factor for either admission or aid.
The Hopwood decision applies only to the Fifth Circuit - which
includes Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi - but the suit placed
Texas, along with California, at the forefront of the heated
affirmative action debate. …