Background

In 1997, Barbara Grutter, a white inhabitant of Michigan, directed for admission to the University of Michigan Law School. Grutter directed with a 3.8 undergraduate GPA and an LSAT tally of 161. She was refuted admission. The Law School admits that it values rush as a component in making admissions conclusions because it serves a "compelling interest in accomplishing diversity amidst its scholar body." The District Court resolved that the Law School's asserted interest in accomplishing diversity in the scholar body was not a convincing one and enjoined its use of rush in the admissions process. In turning around, the Court of Appeals held that Justice Powell's attitude in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), constituted a binding precedent setting up diversity as a convincing governmental interest adequate under firm inspection reconsider to support the use of racial preferences in admissions. The appellate court furthermore turned down the locality court's finding that the Law School's "critical mass" was the purposeful matching of a quota.

Question

Does the University of Michigan Law School's use of racial partialitys in scholar admissions infringe the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Decision

No. In a 5-4 attitude consigned by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Court held that the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School's barely personalized use of rush in admissions conclusions to farther a convincing interest in getting the informative advantages that flow from a varied scholar body. The Court logical that, because the Law School conducts highly individualized reconsider of each applicant, no reception or rejection is founded mechanically on a variable for example rush and that this method double-checks that all components that may assist to diversity are significantly advised beside race. Justice O'Connor composed, "in the context of its individualized investigation into the likely diversity assistance of all applicants, the Law School's race-conscious admissions plan does not excessively damage non-minority applicants."

Review 

First, the Grutter Court found the diversity rationale compelling. Second, a class-based admissions program would be narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling interest of racial diversity as long as it complied with certain constitutional mandates. For instance, a university must ensure that the program creates preferences rather than “quotas” for racial minorities. Additionally, if racial diversity is the university’s ultimate objective, the school must maintain a system of “individualized review” of its application files. In other words, a student’s poor socio-economic background may not be the determinative factor in her admission; rather, her economically depressed circumstance must be considered merely as a “plus” in her file and thus be considered along with her other credentials.

Finally, as a class based plan stands as a facially race-neutral one, the need for a university to consider race-neutral alternatives as well as time limits for its program is obviated. The Supreme Court’s decision in Grutter solidified educational diversity as a compelling state interest. While the Court specifically reasoned that the policy interests of dismantling racial stereotypes, preparing students to engage in a diversified workforce, and ensuring pathways to leadership remain unobstructed for individuals of all races justified its conclusion,2educational diversity also remains a compelling state interest because it is rooted in constitutional precepts. Despite educational diversity’s standing as a compelling state interest, however, the admissions program at issue in Grutter should have been invalidated as unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. First, it fails to account for individuals who are similarly situated to those benefited under its terms. A number of other minority groups merit preference along with those groups targeted by Michigan’s plan. As such, the plan is impermissibly under-inclusive. Second, Michigan failed to consider race-neutral alternatives before enacting its plan as well as failed to impose a time limit on its racial preferences. Thus, Michigan’s plan does not satisfy the strictures of narrow tailoring. In contrast, admissions plans targeting prospective students based on their socio-economic class, rather than their race, do comport with constitutional mandates. A class-based program does not invoke a suspect classification.

Accordingly, a reviewing court would likely subject such a program to rational basis review instead of strict scrutiny. If the plan were constructed, however, for the purpose of conferring benefits on the basis of one’s race, strict scrutiny would be the standard to which the court would subject it. Nevertheless, the plan would still likely withstand strict scrutiny review because class-based plans embody the type of race-neutral alternative that the Constitution requires. Moreover, because racial minorities comprise a disproportionate number of individuals falling into the lowest socio-economic class segment, schools may still be able to achieve the compelling interest of attaining a racially diverse student body through a race-blind economic affirmative action program. Economic affirmative action plans thus confer the dual benefits of granting preferences to the white poor as well as disadvantaged minorities, rendering such plans more fully inclusive than plans that target strictly based upon one’s race. In sum, while the Grutter Court correctly concluded that educational diversity is a compelling state interest; it incorrectly concluded that Michigan’s plan is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. An economic affirmative action plan is superior to a race-based affirmative action plan because it grants benefits to a more inclusive populace of disadvantaged individuals and thus more fully embodies the constitutional precept of the inherent equality of all members of our society.

The data reveal that, if an admissions program were to adopt a class-based preference plan that discounted an individual’s race, a significant number of racial minorities would benefit from receiving class preference. Michigan consistently admitted a class comprised of at least ten percent of its targeted minority groups.267 Minority households represented thirty percent of households earning the lowest income in 2003. Thus, by targeting the poorest segment of society for admission preference, public universities may still be able to admit a “critical mass” of minority students.

An additional advantage of a class-based affirmative action program is that, though it grants preferences to some individuals over others, such a program likely satisfies the Constitution’s strictures. A reviewing court would subject a class-based program to one of two constitutional tests: “rational basis review” or “strict scrutiny.” A class-based program could survive either.

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