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Grutter v. Bollinger (No. 02-241)

22 June 2003


This case required the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether the use of race as a factor in student admissions by the University of Michigan Law School was unlawful. The Law School’s policy aspired to “achieve that diversity which has the potential to enrich everyone’s education and thus make a law school class stronger than the sum of its parts.” Furthermore, the policy reaffirmed the Law School’s longstanding commitment to “one particular type of diversity,” that is, “racial and ethnic diversity”

The Court found that the Law School’s admission policy was not prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause. It held, first, that the Law School has a compelling interest in attaining a diverse student body (§324). The Law School’s assessment that diversity will, in fact, yield educational benefits, was one to which the Court deferred (§328). It noted, however, 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. (§333) The Court held that to be narrowly tailored, a race-conscious admissions program cannot use a quota system–it cannot insulate each category of applicants with certain desired qualifications from competition with all other applicants. (§334) Instead, a university may consider race or ethnicity only as a ‘plus’ in a particular applicant’s file, without “insulating the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats. (§334) It found that the Law School’s policy met this requirement. (§334) The Court also dismissed the petitioner’s argument that its plan was not narrowly tailored because race-neutral means exist to obtain the educational benefits of student body diversity that the Law School seeks. (§339) On this matter, it held that narrow tailoring does not require exhaustion of every conceivable race-neutral alternative. Nor does it require a university to choose between maintaining a reputation for excellence or fulfilling a commitment to provide educational opportunities to members of all racial groups. It simply requires that a race-conscious admissions program not unduly harm members of any racial group. (§339) The Law School was found to meet this requirement also. (§340) Finally, the Court held that race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time. (§342) It stated that this requirement reflects that racial classifications, however compelling their goals, are potentially so dangerous that they may be employed no more broadly than the interest demands. (§342) The Court took the Law School at its word that it will terminate its race-conscious admissions program as soon as practicable. (§343)

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