Appeals court asked to review Michigan's racial preferences

Washington, D.C. –Applicants challenging minority admissions preferences at the University of Michigan asked a federal appeals court today to review a judge’s ruling that the current system of preferences is legal. The request comes in response to the University’s recent petition asking the court to review a parallel ruling that the admissions system in place prior to 1999 was unconstitutional. In the latter ruling in Gratz v. Bolllinger, U.S District Court Judge Patrick Duggan concluded that Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts “systematically exclude[d] a certain group of non-minority applicants from participating in the admissions process based solely on account of their race.”

In their response to the University’s Petition for Permission for Appeal, plaintiffs Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to decide two issues which “will invariably affect the outcome of the case.” The issues are: “is educational diversity a compelling state interest sufficient to justify race-based discrimination in admissions” and, “if so, is the University of Michigan’s admissions plan narrowly tailored to advance that interest?”

The plaintiffs maintain that the answer to both questions is no. Throughout the litigation, they have pointed out that a majority of the Supreme Court has never supported the use of racial preferences to achieve a diverse student body. Moreover, they note, even the current admissions system employed by the College fails to meet the standard for the limited use of preferences endorsed by one Supreme Court Justice. The current system gives black, Hispanic, and native American applicants a 20-point bonus, equivalent to the difference between an A and B high school average.

“The University admits that its current admissions policies differ only cosmetically from the previous system found to be illegal,” noted Curt Levey, Director of Legal & Public Affairs at the Center for Individual Rights (CIR). “Like the previous system, the 20-point bonus means that white and Asian applicants are often rejected solely because of their skin color,” he explained. Because Gratz and Hamacher were rejected under the old system, they are entitled to whatever damages they can demonstrate.

A separate lawsuit, Grutter v. Bolllinger, challenges minority admissions preferences at the University of Michigan Law School. Unlike Gratz, which was decided on summary judgment, the law school case resulted in a trial, which concluded on February 16. A decision could come at any time. The plaintiffs in both lawsuits are represented by CIR and Minneapolis’s Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand. Legal analysts believe that one or both of the cases may well be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.