Texas v. Lesage, 528 U.S. 18 (1999) (per curiam)

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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.

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