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Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)

The Supreme Court reconsidered affirmative action in 2003 in a pair of cases arising from admissions policies at the University of Michigan. In Grutter v. Bollinger the Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s use of race, along with other factors, in attempting to obtain a diverse educational environment. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, speaking for a 5 to 4 majority, endorsed the diversity rationale first set forth by Justice Powell in Bakke. She concluded that “the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” In reaching this result Justice O’Connor stressed that “universities occupy a special niche in our constitutional tradition” adopted a deferential approach to the academic decisions of universities. She also maintained that fixed racial quotas would be unconstitutional and pointed out that “”racial classifications, however compelling their goals, are potentially so dangerous;” that race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in duration. O’Connor expressed the hope that racial preferences would no longer be necessary in twenty-five years. The four dissenting justices charged that the ostensibly flexible admissions program was in practice a carefully managed scheme to admit less qualified applicants from selected minority groups in violation of the equal protection clause.

 In the companion case of Gratz v. Bollinger the Supreme Court placed some limits on the use of affirmative action in education. The justices, by a vote of 6 to 3, struck down the University of Michigan’s use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions.  At issue was a policy under which a number of points were automatically added to the selection index of every applicant from an “underrepresented” racial or ethnic minority group. Writing for the majority. Chief Justice Rehnquist ruled that such a blanket racial preference was “not narrowly tailored” to achieve the asserted interest in diversity and thus ran afoul of the equal protection clause.

 The two Michigan decisions appear to allow universities to give weight to an applicant’s membership in a racial minority in the context of an individualized admissions determination, but not as part of arbitrary formulas or quotas. Yet these rulings are unlikely to halt the controversy over affirmative action in higher education. Further litigation is almost a certainty. Among the unresolved issues are which racial or ethnic groups qualify for affirmative action in the name of diversity and the status of minority-only scholarships and campus housing. [Hall, Finkleman and Ely, 2005]


1 Comment

  1. Matt SpringerMay 8, 2020
    The SC supported UM Law school’s use of affirmative action. Citing Bakke, Justice O’Connor states “the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body”. Additionally, I’ve done some reading into this, Asian Americans are not considered an ‘Underrepresented Minority” in law school. Idk if this, underrepresented minority, is affirmative action in action, but I found this an interesting find
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    Julio Hernandez
    Julio HernandezMay 2, 2020
    The SCOTUS ruled that the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School narrowly tailored use of race in admission decisions. The University of Michigan is using affirmative action to allow a diversify student body.
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    Henry Jiang
    Henry JiangApr 15, 2020
    SC ruled that the University of Michigan Law School admissions program that gave special consideration for being a specific racial minority did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The plaintiff was a black applicant who argued that the school used race as the “predominant factor” that give applicants in a certain minority group a better admission advantage than students with similar credentials from unflavored racial groups. However, the SC explained that the law school focuses on highly individualized review of every applicant, and there were acceptance or denial of admission automatically based solely on race and that the procedure guarantees that the other necessary factors contribute to the diversity of the school.
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    Deleted user
    Deleted userApr 23, 2019
    The court decided that the law school’s use of racial preference in admission does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, because the school conducts highly individualized reviews of each student and the schools decision is not soley based on race, but on other factor as well.
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    Deleted user
    Deleted userApr 16, 2014
    Facts: Barbara Grutter, a white female, applied and was subsequently denied admission to the University of Michigan law school. At the time, Michigan law had a policy of giving certain minorities a greater chance of admission. Grutter sued the school.

    Question: Does Michigan law school’s policy of using race as a factor in admission violate the Equal Protection clause?

    Ruling: No, 5-4

    Reasoning: The court held that the Equal Protection clause does not stop schools from achieving the compelling interest of a diverse student body. So long as race is not the only factor considered, and it does not prevent nonminority students from gaining admission, race may be taken into consideration in admissions.

    Note:
    The court also relied on the Bakke case from 25 years earlier in coming to this decision. They note that the University of Michigan policy was not a quota system, which would have been unconstitutional under Bakke. Instead, this case dealt with an individual evaluation of the candidates, using race as one diversity factor.
    Victoria Latus T3
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