OCTOBER TERM, 1999
TEXAS ET AL. v. LESAGE ET AL.
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
No.98-1111. Decided November 29, 1999
Respondent Lesage, an African immigrant of Caucasian descent, was denied admission to a Ph.D. program at the University of Texas, which considered applicants' race during the review process. He filed suit seeking money damages and injunctive relief, alleging that, by establishing and maintaining a race-conscious admissions process, the school had violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and 42 U. S. C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 2000d. The District Court granted summary judgment for petitioners, who offered evidence that, even if the school's admissions process had been completely colorblind, Lesage would not have been admitted. The Fifth Circuit reversed.
Held: The Fifth Circuit's holding that summary judgment was inappropriate on Lesage's § 1983 damages claim even if petitioners conclusively established that he would have been rejected under a race-neutral policy is inconsistent with this Court's well-established framework for analyzing such claims. Under Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U. S. 274, 287, when the government has considered an impermissible criterion in making a decision adverse to the plaintiff, it can nonetheless avoid liability by proving that it would have made the same decision absent the forbidden consideration. It is immaterial that the Court's previous decisions on this point have typically involved alleged retaliation for protected First Amendment activity rather than racial discrimination. Of course, a plaintiff challenging an ongoing race-conscious program and seeking forward-looking relief need only show "the inability to compete on an equal footing." Northeastern Fla. Chapter, Associated Gen. Contractors of America v. Jacksonville, 508 U. S. 656, 666. But where there is no allegation of an ongoing or imminent constitutional violation to support such a claim, the government's conclusive demonstration that it would have made the same decision absent the alleged discrimination precludes any liability finding. Whether Lesage's claims under §§ 1981 and 2000d remain, and whether he has abandoned his claim for injunctive relief, are matters open on remand.
Certiorari granted; 158 F.3d 213, reversed and remanded.
Respondent Franvois Daniel Lesage, an African immigrant of Caucasian descent, applied for admission to the Ph.D. program in counseling psychology at the University of Texas' Department of Education for the 1996-1997 academic year. In the year Lesage applied, the school received 223 applications for the program and offered admission to roughly 20 candidates. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-22. It is undisputed that the school considered the race of its applicants at some stage during the review process. The school rejected Lesage's application and offered admission to at least one minority candidate. Lesage filed suit seeking money damages and injunctive relief. He alleged that, by establishing and maintaining a race-conscious admissions process, the school had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Rev. Stat. § 1977, 42 U. S. C. § 1981, Rev. Stat. § 1979, as amended, 42 U. S. C. § 1983 (1994 ed., Supp. III), and 78 Stat. 252, 42 U. S. C. § 2000d.
Petitioners sought summary judgment, offering evidence that, even if the school's admissions process had been completely colorblind, Lesage would not have been admitted. At least 80 applicants had higher undergraduate grade point averages (GPA's) than Lesage, 152 applicants had higher Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, and 73 applicants had both higher GPA's and higher GRE scores. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-23. In an affidavit, Professor Ricardo Ainslie, one of two members of the school's admissions committee, stated that Lesage's personal statement indicated that he had "'a rather superficial interest in the field with a limited capacity to convey his interests and ideas,'" and that his letters of recommendation were "weak." Id., at A-24. Ainslie stated that Lesage's application was rejected early in the review process, when the committee was winnowing the full application pool to a list of 40. Ibid. The District Court concluded that "any consideration of race had no effect