Washington, D.C. – In a sharply divided 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit today held that the University of Michigan Law school may take race into account in its admissions policies in order to achieve educational diversity. The court based its holding on Justice Powell’s lone 1978 opinion in University of California v. Bakke
According the majority opinion, the school was within its rights to achieve a critical mass of racial minorities, so long as it did not reserve a specific number of seats for any one racial group.
Four members of the court signed onto a dissenting opinion authored by Judge Danny Boggs. In his dissent, Judge Boggs rejected the claim that racial diversity is a compelling interest that justifies the consideration of race. Moreover, the dissent argued that even if diversity justifies some consideration of race, the Michigan admissions plan impermissibly places too great a weight on that factor.
According to Judge Boggs, “the Law School maintains a ‘two-track,’ indeed separated, system for admissions.” He said, “Michigan’s plan does not seek diversity for education’s sake. It seeks racial numbers for the sake of the comfort that those abstract numbers may bring. It does so at the expense of the real rights of real people to fair consideration.”
Lead counsel Kirk Kolbo expected to promptly appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kolbo commented, “Today’s 5-4 decison just confirms that the lower courts are closely and sharply divided on this important issue. We believe it is one that must and will be decided by the Supreme Court, which is where we are going to take the case next.”
Plaintiff Barbara Grutter released this statement: “I’ve anticipated from the beginning that this would have to go the Supreme Court and today’s decision just takes us one step closer.”
Terence J. Pell, CEO of the Center for Individual Rights, a public interest law firm that also represents Ms. Grutter commented, “While UM may have eked out a 5-4 decision, the opinions themselves suggest little legal support for racially segregated admissions policies. I am confident the Supreme Court will correct this error.”