Court rules UM race policy illegal

Washington, D.C. – In a ringing endorsement of the rights of all citizens to be treated equally under the law, a federal district court judge today ruled in the nationally watched case of Gratz v. Bollinger, that there was no need to proceed with a trial and that the record as it stood was sufficient to find the University of Michigan guilty of intentional racial discrimination from 1995 through 1998.

The case had been brought by the Center for Individual Rights in October 1997 on behalf of Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hammacher. Gratz and Hammacher had applied to the University of Michigan’s undergraduate College of Literature, Sciences, and the Arts (“LSA”) in 1995 and 1997, respectively, and were denied admission, they alleged, because of the University’s illegal use of racial preferences to further the number of certain preferred racial minorities at the University.

In a 50-page ruling released today, Judge Patrick J. Duggan agreed with the plaintiffs’ arguments and found that the evidence they submitted was sufficient to rule in their favor without the need of a trial and granted plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment with respect to the LSA’s admissions programs in existence from 1995 through 1998.

Judge Duggan rejected the arguments from the University’s attorneys–who had mounted a multi-million dollar defense effort on its behalf–that the admissions system the University had operated in those years comported fully with the Supreme Court’s 1978 ruling in Bakke v. Regents of University of California, which allowed institutions of higher education, under certain circumstances, to take race into consideration in their admissions process in order to further intellectual diversity.

Instead the Judge found that there were no facts in dispute concerning how the University operated its admissions process in the years when Gratz and Hammacher applied and that a trial would serve no purpose.

“[T]he LSA’s use of protected seats [for minority candidates] and the LSA’s system of automatic rejection [of white candidates] … when examined in their entirety, fall within the impermissible under the principles enunciated by Justice Powell in Bakke,” wrote Judge Duggan. “Accordingly, Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment shall be granted with respect to the LSA’s admissions program employed from 1995 through 1998.”

Terence J. Pell, Chief Executive Officer, of the Center for Individuals Rights, which, together with the Minneapolis, MN law firm of Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand, LLP represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit hailed the decision: “The idea that the University of Michigan would have engaged in systematic discrimination against thousands of students who applied to it from 1995-1998 based upon their skin color is outrageous,” Pell said. “Judge Duggan is to be commended for seeing through the University’s specious arguments and for having convincingly sided with the plaintiffs.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said the district court’s ruling that there was no need for trial makes a particularly strong case about just how overwhelming the facts were against the University of Michigan for the years 1995 through 1998.

“Judge Duggan has written a well reasoned opinion that clearly sets outs the facts and the law with respect to the years during which our clients were eligible to be admitted to the University of Michigan ,” said lead trial attorney Kirk O. Kolbo. “The University will doubtless appeal this part of the Judge’s ruling,” he continued, “but we are confident that the Sixth Circuit will affirm it on appeal.”

As a result of the Gratz litigation, University of Michigan was compelled to modify its admissions process several years into the litigation. However attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the changes were insufficient to pass constitutional muster. Accordingly, they expressed disappointment at the first part of Judge Duggan’s decision which found that the University’s admissions program for the years 1999 and 2000 were constitutional.

“We continue to believe that public universities have no right under the Equal Protection Clause to engineer a particular racial mix of students,” said Mr. Pell. “So, of course, we would have preferred to see the court rule that `diversity’ is not a compelling interest that justifies a race-based admissions program. We are considering whether to appeal that portion of his opinion.”

Added Kirk Kolbo, the lead trial attorney in the case: “We’re delighted for our clients. But the people of Michigan should be happy only when the courts take the University out of the business of judging applicants on the basis of race.”