The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two related affirmative action cases involving the University of Michigan and white student applicants charging they were unconstitutionally denied admission because of their race. Attorneys from the advocacy group Center for Individual Rights allege that Michigan’s policy of accepting minorities over whites having equal or higher grades and scores violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination by federally funded institutions, and/or the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants all citizens equal treatment under the law. However, Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman argues that race is critical to developing a diverse educational environment offering benefits to all, according to the Washington Post. More over, “Now is not the time to turn back the clock… The color of your skin determines so many important things about your life experience—where you live, where you go to work and with whom you work. Race still matters in our society. The ideal of colorblindness does not mean we can or should be blind to that reality.”
Previous rulings on affirmative action have only heightened the controversy. In the 1978 Supreme Court case involving Allan Bakke, a white student denied admission to the University of California at Davis’ medical school, justices ruled 5-4 to prohibit racial quotas but permit consideration of race in developing student diversity. In the Michigan cases to be heard by the Supreme Court next year--Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger--a US district judge upheld the university’s undergraduate admissions practice but struck down its law school policy, respectively. Both cases were appealed to the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Last May, the appeals court ruled by a narrow 5-4 margin in favor of Michigan’s law school, but no ruling has yet been issued in the undergraduate case. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments for both cases in March and issue a decision by July.
Minorities account for roughly 15 percent of Michigan’s freshman law students, according to the Associated Press.
Media Resources: Washington Post 12/3/02; Associated Press 12/2/02; CNN 12/3/02; University of Michigan press release 12/2/02