Federal court strikes down U. of Michigan's racial preferences

Washinton, D.C. – In a landmark decision affecting the future of affirmative action, a federal judge ruled today that “the University of Michigan Law School’s use of race as a factor in its admissions decisions is unconstitutional and a violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.” Ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman found that “the practical effect of the law school’s policy is indistinguishable from a straight quota system,” and ordered the Law School to stop “using applicants’ race as a factor” in admissions. Judge Friedman rejected the school’s argument that its discrimination against white and Asian applicants is constitutionally justified as a means to attain a diverse student body. Because universities across the country base their affirmative action policies on similar arguments, Friedman’s decision is expected to have a wide impact. Judge Friedman also decisively rejected a claim by a group of student intervenors that the Law School’s admissions preferences are justified as a remedy for societal discrimination against minorities.

Today’s decision vindicates the three-year legal fight of plaintiff Barbara Grutter, a white 47-year-old mother of two, who was waitlisted then rejected by the Law School in 1997. Judge Friedman found that Ms. Grutter and the members of a class action she represents were subjected to substantially higher admissions standards because of their skin color. As Friedman noted, the Law School conceded that preferred-race applicants – blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans – receive admission preferences designed to achieve a “critical mass” of such students. For example, among applicants with grades and LSAT scores similar to Ms. Grutter’s, 80% of the minorities were accepted for admission, while only 8% of whites and Asians were admitted.

Barbara Grutter expressed great satisfaction with today’s decision, saying her lawsuit was motivated primarily by principle. “I have always taught my children that discrimination is wrong – both morally and legally,” she said. “Now I can tell them that’s not just talk.”

Barbara Grutter is represented by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) and Minneapolis-based Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand. Terry Pell, CEO of the Center, called today’s ruling “a very important decision in the legal battle over racial preferences.” Pell said he was “tremendously gratified by the decision, because it represents total victory for Barbara and a complete repudiation of the Law School’s use of preferences.” Maslon attorney Kirk Kolbo added that “the decision vindicates the most fundamental principle upon which this country is based – that race is an irrelevant and immoral basis on which to make decisions.” Both CIR and Maslon also represent the plaintiffs in Gratz v. Bollinger, a separate challenge to minority admissions preferences at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.