Case Status: Partial Win: The Supreme Court struck down the UM undergraduate admissions system but upheld the law school system.

Gratz & Grutter: Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What is the difference between the Gratz case and the Grutter case?

Answer: Gratz v. Bollinger challenged the undergraduate admissions system at UM’s College of Literature, the Arts and Sciences (“LSA”); Grutter v. Bollinger challenged the UM Law School admissions system. The two cases were filed within a month of each other and the Supreme Court heard both cases simultaneously when they reached the High Court.  Both cases raised two questions: first, whether it is ever appropriate to take the race of an applicant into account in order to achieve a desirable racial mix of students, and second, if so, whether either of the admissions systems at the UM took race into account in an appropriate way.

Question: What did the Supreme Court decide in Grutter v. Bollinger?

Answer: The Court struck down the undergraduate system in Gratz v. Bollinger but upheld the Law School admissions system at issue in Grutter v. Bollinger.  It decided that a school may take race into account to achieve educational benefits of diversity, but it may not use race in a mechanical fashion solely to achieve a racial balance for its own sake.

Question: Why did the Court strike down the undergraduate preferences in Gratz v. Bollinger but uphold the law school preferences in Grutter v. Bollinger?

Answer: The Court struck down the UM undergraduate admissions system in Gratz v. Bollinger because it mechanically awarded all minority applicants a similar bonus. The Court upheld the UM law school system in Grutter v. Bollinger because it ostensibly granted racial preferences on a case by case basis. In truth, the law school system granted preferences every bit as large and mechanical as the undergraduate system. So much is still open for clarification in later opinions. Click here for a more complete analysis of the Court’s ruling by CIR General Counsel Michael Rosman.

Question: Why did CIR challenge the University of Michigan’s admissions policies?

Answer: CIR challenged the admissions policies of the University’s Law School and its College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, because the policies included unlawful racial preferences for black, Hispanic, and Native American applicants. For example, the College added 20 bonus points to the admissions index of, underrepresented minority applicants and set aside protected seats for minority applicants. The Law School employed racial preferences of the same magnitude, though they were (and continue to be) implemented differently.

Question: Why are racial preferences are illegal?

Answer: The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits government entities – including public universities – from discriminating based on race, except where the discrimination is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest. The standard under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act – which applies to private as well as public universities – is similar.

The UM and other schools do not deny that they discriminate against white, Asian, and Arab applicants. But, they say, they must do so to further what they claim is a compelling interest in having a diverse student body. CIR does not believe the “diversity rationale” meets the constitutional standard of a compelling state interest that justifies an exception to the plain language of the Equal Protection clause.

Question: Didn’t the Supreme Court rule that diversity was a compelling interest?

Answer: Yes. The opinions in the Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger cases say that diversity is a “compelling interest” that sometimes justifies the consideration of race. However, the opinions made it clear that a school may not engage in mechanical racial balancing.  The opinions left open many practical questions about what admissions practices legitimately contribute to diversity and what practices amount to illegal racial balancing.  And in practice, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two.

Question: How did named plaintiffs Barbara Grutter, Jennifer Gratz, and Patrick Hamacher get involved in the University of Michigan cases?

Answer: After applying to the University of Michigan Law School, Barbara Grutter was wait listed and then rejected. Similarly, Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher were “wait listed” and then rejected by the University’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. After learning that race played a large role in the University’s admissions policies, all three concluded that they would have been admitted had they been of a preferred race – black, Hispanic, or Native American. The three sought legal representation to vindicate their right to be free of racial discrimination. With CIR’s help, they filed a civil rights lawsuit against the University of Michigan in federal court.

Question: When did Barbara, Jennifer, and Patrick apply to the University of Michigan?

Answer: Barbara applied to the Law School in December 1996, at age 43, for admission to the class entering in the fall of 1997. At age 17, Jennifer applied to the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts for admission in the fall of 1995. Patrick applied to the College for admission in the fall of 1997. He was 17 at the time.

Question: What have Barbara, Jennifer, and Patrick done since the lawsuits ended?

Answer: Patrick attended Michigan State University, where he graduated in 2001 with a degree in public administration.  In August 2004, Patrick earned a Masters in Public Administration.

Jennifer attended the University of Michigan’s campus at Dearborn. She earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and graduated in 1999. Jennifer served as the Executive Director of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, a group that successfully put an end to race preferences in Michigan through a ballot initiative in 2006. She then worked to pass similar legislation in other states.  In 2013, she founded and currently leads XIV Foundation, a non-profit that educates the public about the harms of racial discrimination, including racial preferences.

While not able to attend law school, Barbara focused on running her Michigan-based health care consulting company and raising her two children. In 2005, Barbara helped organize and then served on the board of directors of “Towards a Fair Michigan,” an organization dedicated to fostering public discussion about race preferences in the lead-up to the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

Question: Besides the plaintiffs and the University of Michigan defendants, are there additional parties to these lawsuits?

Answer: Yes. Groups of students represented by groups favoring race preferences petitioned to intervene in the case and were granted status as co-defendants with the university.

Question: How has Michigan altered its admissions policy as a result of losing Gratz v. Bollinger?

Answer: As a result of the Supreme Court having struck down every one of UM’s undergraduate admissions policies, the school had to devise a new system. Michigan continues to consider race in admission. In place of mechanical index points, the Michigan undergraduate application now includes questions concerning the socioeconomic and racial background of the student and an essay question about diversity.

Question: Which case limited affirmative action?

Answer: Both Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger limited the use of affirmative action in admissions policies. Gratz v. Bollinger was especially significant because it concluded that the University of Michigan’s racial preference policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it mechanically awarded bonus points to applicants solely because of their race.  In Grutter v. Bollinger the Supreme Court declared that the law schools use of race was permissible only because it did not use a mechanical scoring system, but considered race as one factor among many in a holistic process.