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Gratz v. Bollinger (No. 02-516)

22 June 2003


In October 1997, Gratz and Hamacher filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against respondents, a university, a college, and university officials, alleging racial discrimination. The source of the complaint was the university’s undergraduate admissions policy, which was based on a point system that automatically granted 20 points to applicants from underrepresented minority groups. Petitioners claimed this was a violation of their rights and the class they represent to equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Court has previously held that even in the limited circumstance when drawing racial distinctions is permissible to further a compelling state interest, government is still constrained in how it may pursue that end: the means chosen to accomplish the asserted purpose must be specifically and narrowly framed to accomplish that purpose. (§270) Petitioners in this case argued that the Court has only sanctioned the use of racial classifications to remedy identified discrimination, a justification on which respondents have never relied. (§268) Petitioners further argued that diversity as a basis for employing racial preferences is simply too open-ended, ill-defined, and indefinite to constitute a compelling interest capable of supporting narrowly-tailored means. (§268) The Court dismissed this claim by making reference to a previous case, Grutter v. Bollinger, where it held that racial diversity can constitute a compelling interest. (§268)

Petitioners alternatively argued that even if the University’s interest in diversity can constitute a compelling state interest, the District Court erroneously concluded that the University’s use of race in its current freshman admissions policy is narrowly tailored to achieve such an interest. (§269) They argued that the guidelines the University began using in 1999 did not remotely resemble the kind of consideration of race and ethnicity that Justice Powell endorsed in Bakke, where the Court emphasized the importance of considering each particular applicant as an individual, assessing all of the qualities that individual possesses, and in turn, evaluating that individual’s ability to contribute to the unique setting of higher education. (§269)

The Court found that the University’s policy, which automatically distributed one-fifth of the points needed to guarantee admission to every single underrepresented minority applicant solely because of race, was not narrowly tailored to achieve the interest in educational diversity that the university claimed justified its program. (§271-72) It held that the LSA’s automatic distribution of 20 points had the effect of making the factor of race decisive for virtually every minimally qualified underrepresented minority applicant. (§272) It concluded, therefore, that the admissions policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (§275)

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  • Regents University of California v. Bakke
  • Grutter v. Bollinger
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