Issue: Affirmative action in college
Bottom Line: Colleges can use race as a factor in admissions.
Background: In 1997, Barbara Grutter, a White Michigan resident, was denied admission to the University of Michigan Law School. Grutter, who had a 3.8 undergraduate G.P.A. and good standardized test scores, sued the university over the law school’s affirmative action policy, which considered race as a factor in admissions.
Michigan and many other universities use affirmative action to increase the diversity in their classes. Grutter claimed that Michigan admitted less qualified applicants of color in violation of federal civil rights laws and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizens “equal protection” under the law.
Ruling: In a 5-to-4 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the use of affirmative action in higher education. “Student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions,” the Court said.
The Court emphasized that the University of Michigan’s policy was acceptable because the school conducted a thorough review of each applicant’s qualifications and didn’t use racial quotas—meaning it didn’t set aside a specific number of spots for applicants of any race.