Thursday, October 18, 2012
Of the many amicus briefs filed in Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin, argued last week, the brief on behalf of the family of Heman Sweatt stands out. Heman Sweatt, of course, was the plaintiff in Sweatt v. Painter, decided by the Supreme Court in 1950. As the "interest of amicus curiae" section of the brief explains:
Amici curiae are the daughter and nephews of Heman Marion Sweatt, who in 1946 was denied admission to The University of Texas Law School for one reason: “the fact that he is a negro.” Texas law forbade UT from considering any of his other qualities: not his intelligence, not his determination, not the grit he gained living under and fighting Jim Crow.
In 1950 – four years before Brown v. Board of Education – this Court held that Sweatt must be admitted to UT, because the separate law school created to accommodate him was not equal in – among other things – intangibles such as reputation and because Sweatt would be “removed from the interplay of ideas and the exchange of views” with “members of the racial groups which number 85% of the population of the State.”
Today, UT honors the legacy of Heman Sweatt in many ways, none more important than its commitment to creating a genuinely diverse student body. It does so through an admissions policy that considers (to the extent allowed by the Texas Top Ten Percent Law, which depends on secondary-school segregation to increase minority enrollment) all aspects of an applicant’s character – including, in part, how that character has been shaped by race.
The brief not only highlights the "importance of race" but also the "importance of patience," arguing that the "25-year horizon Justice O’Connor envisioned for race-conscious admissions decisions [in Grutter] may have been optimistic."
More about Sweatt's case in the United States Supreme Court is available at the UT Tarlton Law Library's holding of the papers of Justice Thomas C. Clark.
[image: Prints & Photographs Collection, Heman Sweatt file, The Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin, via]