Read the synopsis of Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger.
Complete the first part of this graphic organizer.
With your class, review the decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Based on that information, make a prediction about the Court's decision in Gratz and Grutter. How did you arrive at that prediction? Share your prediction and your rationale with a partner.
Read the outcome in The Two Cases Decided and record that information on the graphic organizer.
Synopses: Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger
Gratz v. Bollinger
Jennifer Gratz, a white resident of Michigan, applied to the
University of Michigan as a high school senior in 1995. Her standardized
test score (25) on the ACT placed her in the top quarter of applicants,
and she had a GPA of 3.8. In addition, Gratz participated in student
council and various other extra-curricular activities. Nevertheless, the
university denied Gratz admission. The University of Michigan’s
admissions guidelines in effect in 1995 called for the acceptance of all
underrepresented minority applicants with academic credentials similar
to Gratz’s. Both parties agree that Gratz would have been admitted to
the university had she been a minority applicant.
From 1995 through 1997 the university admissions officers used
guideline tables or grids that reflected a combination of the
applicant’s adjusted high school GPA and ACT or SAT score. To promote
diversity, the university utilized different grids and admissions
criteria for applicants who were members of preferred minority groups as
compared to other candidates. Michigan also set aside a prescribed
number of seats in the entering class for minorities in order to meet
its numerical target.
In 1998, the university dropped its admissions grid system and
replaced it with a 150-point “selection index.” Admissions officers
assign applicants points based on various factors, including test
scores, “legacy” status, geographic origin, athletic ability,
socioeconomic level, and race/ethnicity. The more points an applicant
accumulates, the higher the chance of admission. Applicants from
"underrepresented" racial and ethnic groups (African Americans, Latinos,
and Native Americans) are assigned 20 points. Scholarship athletes and
students who are economically disadvantaged also receive an automatic
20-point bonus. Geographic origin could earn 6 points, the child of an
alumnus 4 points, and an “outstanding” admissions essay 3 points.
Gratz, and another unsuccessful white applicant, Patrick Hamacher,
brought suit challenging the legality of the University of Michigan’s
admission’s policy. The federal district court ruled that the school’s
undergraduate admissions policy in place before 1999, which maintained a
set-aside for minorities, violated the 14th Amendment, but the
court upheld the current system, which does not use quotas and utilizes
race as a “plus.”
Grutter v. Bollinger
In 1997, Barbara Grutter, a resident of Michigan, applied for
admission to the University of Michigan law school. Grutter, who is
white, had a 3.8 undergraduate GPA and scored 161 on the LSAT. She was
denied admission and subsequently filed suit, claiming that her rights
to equal protection under the 14th Amendment had been violated.
At the time, the law school had an admissions policy that used race
as a factor in the admissions process. In selecting students, the law
school considered the applicant's academic ability, including
undergraduate GPA, LSAT scores, the applicant's personal statement, and
letters of recommendation. The school also considered factors such as
the applicant's experience, the quality of the undergraduate institution
he/she had attended, and the degree to which the applicant would
contribute to law school life and the diversity of the community. The
admissions policy did not define the types of diversity that would
receive special consideration, but did make reference to the inclusion
of African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American students, who might
otherwise be under-represented.
The school thought this policy complied with Bakke, on the grounds
that it served a "compelling interest in achieving diversity among its
student body." The District Court ruled that the goal of achieving a
diverse student body was not a compelling one. In reversing this
decision, the Court of Appeals said that Justice Powell's opinion in
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke constituted a binding
precedent establishing diversity as a compelling governmental interest
sufficient under strict scrutiny review to justify the use of racial
preferences in admissions. Furthermore, the attempt to enroll a
"critical mass" of minorities was not comparable to a quota system.
The Two Cases Decided
Because the issues of diversity and affirmative action in higher
education are so important and because federal courts of appeal had
issued conflicting decisions, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and
agreed to hear both Michigan cases in 2003. In analyzing both cases, a
majority of the justices agreed that racial discrimination was involved
and that the Court had to apply strict judicial scrutiny. This meant
that the state had to show a compelling state interest in support of the
use of race and that race could only be used to further that interest
if it did not unduly burden disfavored groups. For example, a
race-conscious admission program cannot use a quota system which sets
aside a certain number of places in the entering class for members of
selected minority groups, although race or ethnicity could be considered
a "plus" in a particular applicant's file.
A majority of the justices agreed that student body diversity is a
compelling state interest that can justify using race in university
admissions. In a 5-to-4 opinion, the Court found that Michigan's law
school admission policy did not violate Barbara Grutter's rights. Having
a critical mass (essential number) of students from underrepresented
groups can enrich classroom discussion, produce cross-racial
understanding, and break down racial stereotypes.
Rather than emphasizing diversity as justified by past or present
discrimination, the Court's opinion in the law school case looked to the
future and related diversity to the challenges the nation faces:
"Because universities, and in particular, law schools, represent the
training ground for a large number of the Nation's leaders, the path to
leadership must be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of
every race and ethnicity." The Court also noted that "the Law School
engaged in highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant's
file, giving serious consideration to all the ways an applicant might
contribute to a diverse educational environment."
Four justices dissented in the law school case, believing that the
"critical mass" notion was simply a disguise for an illegal quota. To
the dissenters, the Constitution's prohibition against racial
discrimination protects whites as well as minorities. They also believed
there were nondiscriminatory ways to achieve diversity.
In contrast, Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy was found
unconstitutional by a vote of 6 to 3. The majority objected to the
program's failure to consider applicants on an individual basis as
required by the Court's decision in the Bakke case. While the
undergraduate admissions program could use race-conscious affirmative
action, it had to be in a form that was individualized and not
The dissenters in the undergraduate case would have allowed the use
of automatic points to achieve diversity because it was an honest, open
approach to the role race plays in the admissions process.