ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Affirmative Action

March 31, 2003

DETROIT — In a landmark case being argued tomorrow before the Supreme Court, the American Civil Liberties Union will urge the Justices to uphold the admission policies of the University of Michigan, which seeks to promote a diverse student body by employing affirmative action programs.

The Court will actually hear two cases: one involving the University’s undergraduate admissions policy (Gratz v. Bollinger, 02-51), and one involving its law school admissions policy (Grutter v. Bollinger 02-241).

“There’s no way that the University of Michigan would be able to maintain their preeminence as an educational institution without an affirmative action program. Universities must be reflective of the world around them,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director.

In an attempt to increase diversity within its student body, the University of Michigan has for several years included race as one factor among many in admissions. At issue in the undergraduate case is the University's point system. While the University awards points to applicants on a range of academic and non-academic factors, it also considers the applicant's race by awarding points to African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans in the admissions process. Conservatives have dismissed this process as a racial quota, and the Bush Administration has filed a brief with the Justices opposing the University's consideration of race in this case and in college admissions in general.

However, the brief filed by the ACLU and its co-counsel in Gratz notes that the University also awards points if the applicant’s parents are alumni or if applicants come from the upper peninsula of the state, which is predominantly white, skewing the admissions system toward white--and often affluent--applicants. School officials are right to counterbalance the discriminatory effect of their other criteria by considering race as a factor in admissions, the ACLU said.

The Supreme Court will also address the law school’s admissions policy. The law school admissions process does not work on a point system but seeks to admit enough minority applicants to serve the interests of a diverse academic community, a prerequisite to ensuring that all students, regardless of background, experience an intellectual and social environment akin to what they will see in American life.
 
“Even in this hotly contested case no one has challenged the basic proposition that a diverse school is a better school,” said Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU's National Legal Director. “It would be a perverse result if the Constitution were interpreted to require the University to forego the educational benefits of a diverse student body that are extensively documented in the record before the Court.”
 
Hundreds of groups and individuals have filed briefs with the Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan’s admission policies specifically and race-conscious affirmative action programs in general. Many are saying that it is crucial that all segments of society receive the education and training they need to become the leaders of tomorrow. 

Notables include former military leaders: General Norman Schwarzkopf and General John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; business executives from General Motors, 3M, Pfizer and Northrop Grumman; Democratic Senators including Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ted Kennedy as well as 60 members of the House. 

In Gratz, the ACLU is co-counsel for a group of minority students with a coalition of civil rights lawyers and groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). In Grutter, the ACLU has joined a friend-of-the-court brief filed by LDF.

The ACLU's amicus briefs and other material can be seen at:
Gratz v. Bollinger (Decision 02-516) and Grutter v. Bollinger (Decision 02-241)

Related Issues: