Huntingdon College: Political Science and Public Affairs Program | Courses | What's New?
Comments on the University of Michigan Bollinger affirmative action cases
decided by the US Supreme Court, 2003.

Governor Jeb Bush

Regarding the Michigan Supreme Court Ruling "The Supreme Court's decision on today (6/23/03) acknowledges that race-conscious college admissions policies are ultimately at odds with the guarantee of equal protection under the law. Instead of striking down these policies on this basis, the court allowed their limited use, but suggested their eventual demise.

"The Court specifically referenced Florida's race-neutral admissions program and encouraged other states to follow our lead. We agree with the Court's opinion that similar programs should be the norm across the country. Our experience in Florida has proven that race-neutral programs support meaningful diversity.

"Four years ago, Florida launched One Florida to increase opportunity and diversity in our state universities without the divisive crutch of quotas, racial preferences, or set asides. Critics of One Florida predicted sharp declines in minority students. However, today's minority enrollment in state universities, including flagship universities, is the same or higher than four years ago. In the 2002-03 class, 36.2 percent of all new students were minorities, as were 23.5 percent of all new graduate students. One Florida's success clearly demonstrates that diversity can be attained through race-neutral means.

"One Florida has successfully leveled the education playing field for all Floridians regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or zip code. We have broadened the search for talented minorities through greater outreach and recruitment, and increased access for and success of under-represented students. We provide AP course opportunities statewide for students in low performing schools. From 2001 to 2002 the number of African American and Hispanic students who took AP examinations increased by 21 percent and 22 percent respectively. Florida also provides free SAT test preparation for low-income students and free PSAT or PLAN testing for all tenth graders.

"We remain committed to diversity in Florida, but believe it must be achieved in ways that comply with the Constitution's purpose of doing away with all government discrimination based on race. We're going to stay the course on race-neutral admissions and expand our programs to reach all Florida students who yearn for higher education."

CNN, "Narrow use of affirmative action preserved in college admissions"
Wednesday, June 25, 2003 Posted: 12:37 PM EDT (1637 GMT)

The Supreme Court struck down a point system used by the University of Michigan to give minorities preference in undergraduate admissions. The court, however, approved a separate program used by the University of Michigan's law school that gives race less prominence in the admissions decision-making process.

The Supreme Court left room for the nation's public universities -- and by extension other public and private institutions -- to seek subtler ways to take race into account than through a point system. Analysts say the rulings mean that race-conscious policies in place that do not use a point system or other narrow system will probably remain in place.

 WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that race can be a factor for universities shaping their admissions programs, saying a broad social value may be gained from diversity in the classroom.

But race cannot be an overriding factor for schools' admissions programs, the court ruled, saying that such plans can lead to unconstitutional policies.

In separate decisions the high court struck down a point system used by the University of Michigan's undergraduate programs but approved a separate policy used by the University of Michigan law school that gives race less prominence in the admissions decision-making process.

The law school program was upheld by a vote of 5-4, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor providing the swing vote by siding with more liberal jurists. The undergraduate program was overturned 6-3.

The two Michigan cases directly address only admissions at public, tax-supported institutions. But the court decision likely will have an impact on private colleges and universities, other government decision-making and the business world, all trying to boost minority enrollment without violating the Constitution's guarantee against discrimination.

"This is a wonderful, wonderful day -- a victory for all of higher education, because what it means at its core is that affirmative action may still be used and the court's given us a road map to get there," said University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman.

"I think today's opinions, taken together, constitute a strong endorsement of the constitutionality of affirmative action with the proviso that institutions have to make sure that they structure these programs the right way," added Ted Shaw, associate director-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

'More creative and less definitive'
The University of Michigan cases were the most significant test of affirmative action to reach the court in a generation. At issue was whether racial preference programs unconstitutionally discriminate against white students.

The law school ruling followed the path the Supreme Court set a generation ago, when it outlawed quotas but still left room for schools to improve the odds for minority applicants.

Analysts said the rulings' combined impact would force universities and schools to abandon rigid systems as they sort through applications they annually receive from prospective students.

"The colleges can still look for diversity in their entering classes, but the question is how do they look to that?" said Lawrence Lorber, a former affirmative action official during the Ford administration and currently a partner for Proskauer Rose LLP. "Because you can't establish point policies for minorities, you have to effectively be more creative and less definitive."

Two white women were at the center of the University of Michigan cases. Jennifer Gratz was a top high school student in suburban Detroit in 1995, when Michigan rejected her application. Barbara Grutter, a 49-year-old mother of two, ran her own consulting business. Michigan's prestigious law school rejected her application in 1997.

The university acknowledges it has used race as a factor in admissions, relying on a complicated point scale to rate applicants. Grades and academics are most important, but members of "under-represented" racial and ethic minority groups have received extra points, as do children of alumni, athletes and men enrolling in nursing programs. Gratz's lawyers called the points granted for race a "super bonus," equivalent to a full grade point on a student's GPA.

The school's undergraduate program receives 25,000 applications each year and accepts 5,000. African-Americans comprise about 9 percent of this year's freshman class, Latinos 6 percent and Native Americans about 2 percent. The University of Michigan admission policy has been in place more than a decade.

Equal Protection Clause center of Court's rulings
The court ruled that the law school's affirmative action policy, which considers race as a factor in admissions but does not assign specific weight to it, does not violate the equal protections clause of the 14th Amendment, while the undergraduate policy does.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and O'Connor voted to uphold the law school's affirmative action policy, while Justices Anthony Kennedy, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas dissented.

O'Connor, writing the majority opinion, said the Constitution "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."

Adam Dancy, an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, protests in front of the Supreme Court Monday after the ruling on the use of affirmative action in college .
The court agreed with the university's arguments that the law school policy "promotes 'cross-racial understanding,' helps to break down racial stereotypes, and 'enables [students] to better understand persons of different races,'" she wrote.

Thomas, in his dissenting opinion, said, "The law school, of its own choosing, and for its own purposes, maintains an exclusionary admissions system that it knows produces racially disproportionate results. Racial discrimination is not a permissible solution to the self-inflicted wounds of this elitist admissions policy."

Justices Breyer, Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas voted to strike down the undergraduate program, with Justices Souter, Stevens, and Ginsburg voting to uphold it.

Rehnquist, writing for the court majority, said the program was unconstitutional "because the university's use of race in its current freshman admission policy is not narrowly tailored to achieve respondents' asserted compelling interest in diversity."

Souter wrote, "It is hard to see what is inappropriate in assigning some stated value to a relevant characteristic, whether it be reasoning ability, writing style, running speed, or minority race."

The cases were Grutter v. Bollinger (case no. 02-0241) involving the University of Michigan's law school; and Gratz v. Bollinger (no. 02-0516) involving the undergraduate program.

From University of Michigan website:
June 23, 2003

Last modified: Friday, 01-Aug-2003 17:15:02 EDT

U.S. Supreme Court rules on University of Michigan cases

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—In a major victory for U-M announced June 23, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the right of universities to consider race in admissions procedures in order to achieve a diverse student body.

In two lawsuits challenging University of Michigan admissions policies, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Law School and, by a vote of 6-3, reversed, in part, the University’s undergraduate policy, while still allowing for the consideration of race in admissions.

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman responded to news of the court’s decision:
“This is a tremendous victory for the University of Michigan, for all of higher education, and for the hundreds of groups and individuals who supported us,” Coleman said. “A majority of the court has firmly endorsed the principle of diversity articulated by Justice Powell in the Bakke decision. This is a resounding affirmation that will be heard across the land—from our college classrooms to our corporate boardrooms.

“The court has provided two important signals. The first is a green light to pursue diversity in the college classroom. The second is a road map to get us there. We will modify our undergraduate system to comply with today’s ruling, but make no mistake: We will find the route that continues our commitment to a richly diverse student body.

“I believe these rulings in support of affirmative action will go down in history as among the great landmark decisions of the Supreme Court. And I am proud of the voice the University of Michigan provided in this important debate. We fought for the very principle that defines our country’s greatness. Year after year, our student body proves it and now the court has affirmed it: Our diversity is our strength.”

In the Law School decision, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the majority opinion. The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School¹s 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, O'Connor wrote.

Outgoing Dean Jeffrey Lehman said the decision in the Law School affirmed the importance of diversity in higher education.

“By upholding the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions policy, the court has approved a model for how to enroll a student body that is both academically excellent and racially integrated,” Lehman said. “The question is no longer whether affirmative action is legal; it is how to hasten the day when affirmative action is no longer needed.”

Incoming Law School Dean Evan Caminker said the decision “affirmed the authority of colleges and universities to recognize that all students benefit from attending a school that has a meaningful degree of racial integration.”

“This ruling will enable the Law School and other institutions of higher education to continue serving as a pathway to a more fully integrated society.”

Chief Justice William Rehnquist issued the majority opinion in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) case, declaring that while existing affirmative action law established in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke allows for race to be a factor in the admissions process, it must not be a “deciding factor.” At issue, said justices, is the point value given to minority applicants.

"The university's policy, which automatically distributes 20 points, or one-fifth of the points needed to guarantee admission, to every single 'underrepresented minority' applicant solely because of race, is not narrowly tailored to achieve the interest in educational diversity that respondents claim justifies their program," Rehnquist wrote.

LSA Dean Terrence McDonald said the court’s decision to uphold Bakke is an endorsement of the importance of a diverse student body.

“Historically, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts has been committed to the ideal of a diverse student body, pioneering in the admission of women and students of color,” McDonald said. “And our commitment to that goal remains today.

“It is now up to us to rededicate ourselves to this diversity by refining our undergraduate admissions system to comply with the court’s ruling. We will do this. We will put to work some of the brightest minds and most motivated people in the country, and the result, I am sure, will continue to be a model for all of higher education.”

Vice President and General Counsel Marvin Krislov said the court’s decision has impact beyond colleges and universities. Among the many amicus supporters of the University during the course of the lawsuits was the military, whose ranks of officers have become more diverse because of affirmative action. Corporations and other organizations also have come forward to attest to the value of diversity.

“Our nation’s prosperity and national security will be strengthened by today’s decision. Diversity and excellence go hand in hand,” Krislov said.

The lawsuits decided today by the Supreme Court were both filed in 1997 in the Eastern District, U.S. District Court by white applicants, who challenged the use of race in the admissions processes of the University’s largest undergraduate school, the College of Literature Science, and the Arts (Gratz v. Bollinger) and its Law School (Grutter v. Bollinger).

Information about the cases can be found online at including a complete chronology of the key rulings in the cases and other higher education affirmative action lawsuits, which can be found at

A number of conferences are being planned during the summer and fall by higher education and legal organizations to analyze and explain the effects of the court’s decision on university policies nationwide.

The University will update this site continuously throughout the day as information becomes available.

USA Today website:
Posted 6/23/2003 11:44 AM     Updated 6/23/2003 11:34 PM
Court upholds use of race in university admissions
By Joan Biskupic and Mary Beth Marklein, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court's ruling Monday that colleges can favor minority students in admissions represents a historic endorsement of affirmative action at a time when critics had hoped the justices were about to declare that such policies had run their course. (Related audio: Mary Sue Coleman, president, University of Michigan: University is pleased with high court's ruling)

  Supporters of affirmative action rally in front of the Supreme Court.
By Charles Dharapak, AP

But the narrowness of the court's vote, the conditions set by the justices and the promises by foes of affirmative action to keep fighting seem to ensure that the divisive debate over racial preferences will continue across the nation and in the courts.

In a dramatic announcement that was the court's first statement on campus affirmative action in a quarter-century, the justices voted 5-4 to uphold the University of Michigan's preferences for minorities who apply to its law school. But, by a 6-3 vote, they struck down a point system used by Michigan's undergraduate program, saying it was too formulaic in giving a boost to minorities. The court said schools cannot blindly give minorities extra points just because of their race and instead must take the time to assess each applicant's background and potential.

The decision in the law school case is key because it sets in stone a much-debated principle that first was articulated by the late Justice Lewis Powell in a 1978 ruling: that a state university's "compelling" interest in having a diverse student body justifies consideration of race in admissions.

Announcing the law school decision from the court's mahogany bench, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor emphasized the importance of campuses being open to all races, as well as colleges' goal of providing diverse, well-trained graduates for business, the military and other American institutions.

"Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our nation is essential if the dream of one nation, indivisible, is to be realized," she said in the court's written opinion in the law school case. She was joined by the court's liberal wing: Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Critics of affirmative action cast the rulings as a split decision, and said large public universities that receive several thousand applications a year would have a hard time replacing admissions point systems with the more personal assessments required by Monday's rulings. Some justices warned in their opinions that large public universities might resort to camouflaging their admissions formulas.

Lawyers for the three white students who challenged the Michigan policies said the battles aren't over. "We're going to have to pick a few strategic lawsuits, frankly, to put the fear of God in schools," said Curt Levey, an attorney with the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights.

But universities, corporate leaders and civil-rights advocates praised the court's endorsement of affirmative action and said colleges could alter their policies to meet the demands of the ruling in the undergraduate case by examining applicants more closely.

"This is a huge win for higher education," said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan. "The court sent a clear message today that affirmative action may be used in our admissions policies and in other programs."

Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education, a non-profit group that represents college presidents, also praised the decision but added that schools "will have to review all their programs to be sure they are in compliance."

Academic officials said the rulings could require some universities to hire or train more people to review student applications. That could be difficult for cash-strapped universities. Even so, the officials said they do not expect to have trouble meeting the court's guidelines for using affirmative action.

O'Connor's decision reinforced her position as the most influential justice.

On a nine-member court with five conservatives and four liberals, the conservative O'Connor has long been the swing vote on racial policies. She mostly has voted with fellow conservatives in opposing affirmative action on the job, in public contracting and in drawing congressional voting districts.

But O'Connor, who in 1981 became the court's first female justice, said that rules on affirmative action's use should be more flexible when it comes to education. Access to education is critical, she said, as is a campus environment that helps all students better understand people of different races. She noted the court's "tradition of giving a degree of deference to a university's academic decisions."

But she said that race-based benefits should last for a limited time.

"It has been 25 years since Justice Powell first approved the use of race to further an interest in student body diversity in the context of public higher education," she wrote. "Since that time, the number of minority applicants with high grades and test scores has indeed increased. We expect that in 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today."

O'Connor's key role in the 5-4 decision in the law school case reinforced the importance of a single justice's vote on the court at a time when politicians and activists in Washington are watching for one of the justices to retire.

O'Connor, 73, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 78, the author of the court's opinion rejecting Michigan's undergraduate point system, are among those mentioned most as retirement candidates. But with the court's annual term set to end Thursday, there has been no indication that anyone on the court is about to retire.

An ongoing battle

The Michigan cases began in 1997, when three white students filed a lawsuit alleging that the university unconstitutionally used dual-track admissions systems for whites and for racial minorities. Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher were denied admission to the undergraduate program. Barbara Grutter was turned down by the law school.

They alleged that the university's policies that gave minorities a boost in the admissions process violated the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law. The university countered that a diverse student body is integral to a complete education and said that without considering race as a "plus" factor, it could not enroll a "critical mass" of minorities.

The Michigan cases marked the latest chapter in an ongoing national struggle over racial policies.

For more than a decade, conservative activists and white students claiming "reverse discrimination" have worked to overturn Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke, the 1978 ruling that allowed racial preferences in admissions. Lower court rulings were mixed, making the Michigan cases among the most-watched disputes before the high court in recent years.

Monday's decision enshrines the rationale of the 1978 ruling, which ushered in policies designed to give minority groups that historically have received inferior educations a chance to learn at prestigious campuses such as Michigan's in Ann Arbor.

It was the first time that a majority of the Supreme Court voted for the "campus diversity" rationale described by Powell. He cast the key fifth vote upholding affirmative action in Bakke 25 years ago, but he was the only justice who based his decision on the importance of a diverse student body.

The law school program upheld by the justices considers the race of an applicant along with other characteristics such as his hometown, extracurricular activities and talents.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a conservative who is the court's only black member, penned a scathing dissent to O'Connor's opinion that reflected the divisiveness often generated by debates over affirmative action.

Thomas, who has long maintained that giving preferences to minorities is insulting and casts a cloud over their achievements, began with a 1865 passage from abolitionist Frederick Douglass. It said in part, "What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice."

Thomas said Michigan's policies of giving blacks a boost in admissions is unconstitutional. Turning the tables, he declared that "no one would argue that a university could set up a lower general admission standard and then impose heightened requirements only on black applicants."

In its decision in the undergraduate case, the court made it clear that racial preferences cannot be made without consideration of the particular background and experiences of individual applicants.

O'Connor signed on to Rehnquist's majority opinion, which struck down an admissions policy that critics have said virtually guaranteed admission to minorities. Also signing the opinion were Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy.

Breyer joined the bottom-line judgment against the undergraduate program but did not sign Rehnquist's opinion.

Structuring future programs

The distinctions the justices drew between Michigan's law school and undergraduate programs will determine how colleges and universities structure affirmative action programs in the future.

If they want to make race a "plus" factor for an applicant — as many schools do — they will have to take the time and money to look carefully at all individual applicants and not fall back on mathematical formulas or quotas.

"When using race as a 'plus' factor in university admissions, a ... program must remain flexible enough to ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that makes an applicant's race of ethnicity the defining feature of his or her application," O'Connor wrote in approving the law school program.

While Michigan's undergraduate point system helped the school put a value on applicants' credentials, it also gave the court's majority a definition of the type of policy it said was unfair to whites.

Rehnquist noted that in the undergraduate program, minorities automatically got 20 points in a system in which 100 points generally were needed for admission.

O'Connor noted in her opinion joining Rehnquist in that case that the "selection index ... precludes admissions counselors from conducting the type of individualized consideration" her decision in the law school case mandates.

But some justices said the point system merely reflected the weight that colleges give race and ethnicity anyway.

Dissenting in the undergraduate case, Ginsburg noted that the blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans who got the 20 points "have been relegated to inferior status by law and social practice." Joined by Souter, she wrote that colleges should be able to single them out for benefit based on race and not have to put every applicant through an elaborate review.

"If honesty is the best policy," Ginsburg and Souter wrote, "surely Michigan's accurately described, fully disclosed college affirmative action program is preferable to achieving similar numbers through winks, nods, and disguises."

Michigan President Coleman said the university will modify its undergraduate system to comply with Monday's ruling in the undergraduate case. "Make no mistake," she said, "we will find the route that continues our commitment to a richly diverse student body."

But the impact of Monday's rulings will extend far beyond the Ann Arbor campus.

"It's going to be a major overhaul for a lot of schools," said Barmak Nassirian, spokesman for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers. "On a state-by-state, institution-by-institution basis, some fundamental decisions will have to be made. It's really difficult to imagine that any institution in this country will want to be re-segregated."

Linda Chavez, founder and president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, which opposes affirmative action, said the justices "punted on the opportunity to once and for all get government out of the business of deciding winners and losers on the basis of skin color."

But civil-rights groups hailed the law school decision for emphasizing affirmative action as a legitimate policy for the near future. "This is a sweeping, unqualified victory for affirmative action," said Theodore Shaw of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "The court doesn't want to go backward."