The University of Michigan Law School has had a long-standing commitment to promote racial and ethnic diversity with special reference to the inclusion of minority students from historically discriminated groups. The petitioner, a white Michigan resident with decent test scores, applied to the law school but her application was rejected. She 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.” In other words, such classifications are constitutional only if they are narrowly tailored to further compelling governmental interests.
The University of Michigan Law School has had a long-standing commitment to promote racial and ethnic diversity with special reference to the inclusion of minority students from historically discriminated groups. By enrolling a ‘critical mass’ of underrepresented minority students, the law school seeks to ensure their ability to make unique contributions to the character of the law school. The petitioner, a white Michigan resident, applied to the law school with a 3.8 grade point average and 161 LSAT score but her application was rejected.
Is the use of race as a factor in law student admissions unlawful?
No, the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the law school from narrowly tailoring the use of race in admission decisions to further its compelling interest of promoting diversity in the law school.The Court has long recognized the important purpose of education and the expansive freedoms of speech associated with the university environment. Moreover, the university’s admissions program remains flexible enough to ensure that each student is evaluated as an individual.
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.
The law school seeks to enroll a critical mass of minority students and the entailing educational benefits that diversity if designed to produce are substantial. Classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited and entertaining when the students are from diverse background. Also, while universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial groups, universities can consider race or ethnicity more flexibly as a “plus” factor in the context of individualized consideration of each applicant. Here, the university engages in a highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant’s file, giving serious consideration to applicants of all races and ensures that all factors are meaningfully considered alongside race in admissions decisions.