Gratz v. Bollinger
What's at Stake
This case challenged the use of affirmative action in the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions process. Though this particular program was struck down, the Court upheld the constitutionality of affirmative action in order to further the compelling interest of diversity.
This case and its companion, Grutter v. Bollinger, challenged the affirmative action admissions practices of the University of Michigan’s undergraduate and law school programs, respectively. The two cases were filed in 1997 by white plaintiffs who alleged that the University’s use of race violated their constitutional right to equal protection of the laws.
A group of civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and a local group of advocates intervened in the undergraduate case on behalf of African American and Latino applicants. Similar local groups intervened in the law school case.
The University vigorously defended its use of race in admissions decisions as a means of achieving a diverse student body and asserted that it had a constitutionally sufficient compelling interest in achieving a diverse student body. In both cases, the University assembled an extraordinary record of facts and expert analyses to establish that a diverse student body provided educational benefits to all of the university’s students. The challengers largely conceded the educational benefits of a diverse student body, but asserted that those benefits were irrelevant because the use of race violated the constitution.
The intervenors supported the University in its view that a diverse educational environment was beneficial for all students and was a compelling interest. We also argued that the University’s use of race in admissions decisions could be justified as a means of remedying past and present discrimination. For example, we presented evidence that many of the other admissions criteria, such as alumni status or test scores, had a racially discriminatory effect on African American and Latino applicants.
These cases were decided in 2003. Though finding the undergraduate admissions program to be unconstitution, the Court upheld affirmative action and affirmed that the Constitution supported “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.”