The petitioner challenged the University of Michigan Law School’s long-standing practice of considering soft factors in admitting students and its commitment to promote racial and ethnic diversity with special reference to the inclusion of minority students from historically discriminated groups. The petitioner, sued alleging discrimination against her on the basis of race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
All racial classifications imposed by government “must be analyzed by a court under strict scrutiny.” Such classifications are constitutional only if they are narrowly tailored to further compelling governmental interests.
Seeking to admit a group of students who individually and collectively are among the most capable, the University of Michigan Law School looks for individuals with substantial promise for success in law school and a strong likelihood of succeeding in the practice of law and contributing in diverse ways to the well-being of others. The Law School seeks a mix of students with varying backgrounds and experiences who will respect and learn from each other. In reviewing an applicant’s file, admissions officials must consider the applicant’s undergraduate grade point average and Law School Admissions Test score. Other soft variables are all brought to bear in assessing an applicant’s likely contributions to the intellectual and social life of the institution. Petitioner Barbara Grutter, a white Michigan student who applied to the Law School with a 3.8 GPA and 161 LSAT score, was rejected to the admissions. Petitioner alleged that respondents discriminated against her on the basis of race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Does the use of race as a factor in student admissions violate the Constitution?
No, the use of race as a factor in student admissions does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, because the Law School’s plan is narrowly tailored and the educational benefits that diversity is designed to produce are substantial. The Law School’s interest is not simply to assure within its student body some specified percentage of a particular group merely because of its race or ethnic origin. Rather, the Law School’s concept of critical mass of minority students is defined by reference to the educational benefits.
It is the educational benefits that are the goal, or allegedly compelling state interest, not diversity. Under the proper standard, there is no pressing public necessity in maintaining a public law school at all and certainly not an elite law school. Marginal improvements in legal education do not qualify as a compelling state interest. Michigan has no compelling interest in having a law school at all, much less an elite one.
Despite the law school’s goal of achieving a ‘critical mass’ of underrepresented minority students, it has only admitted about 200 minority students out of 1300 students every year. If the law school is to prevent minority students from feeling isolated for their race, significantly more minority students should have been admitted. The university, however, failed to provide race-specific reasons for such disparities.
Race bias remain alive in our land, impeding realization of our highest values and ideals. Evidence shows that schools in predominantly minority communities lag far behind others and that minority students encounter inadequate and unequal educational opportunities. The law school’s admission policy facilitates the progress toward nondiscrimination and equal opportunity.
Major American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today’s increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints. The Court has repeatedly acknowledged the overriding importance of preparing students for work and citizenship, describing education as pivotal to sustaining our political and cultural heritage with a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of society. Moreover, the school’s race-conscious admissions program does not operate as a quot. Here, the Law School engages in a highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant’s file, giving serious consideration to all the ways an applicant might contribute to a diverse educational environment. The Law School awards no mechanical, predetermined diversity bonuses based on race or ethnicity. The program also adequately ensures that all factors that may contribute to student body diversity are meaningfully considered alongside race in admissions decisions.