Case Study: Two Recent Supreme Court Approaches to Affirmative Action

One of the most difficult issues modern American universities have had to grapple with is the issue of fairness in the wake of the historic discrimination against minorities in the United States.To do so, the University of Michigan's University Office of Undergraduate Admissions (OUA) put forth written guidelines that required the admissions department to consider a number of factors in making admissions decisions, "including high school grades, standardized test scores, high school quality, curriculum strength, geography, alumni relationships, leadership, and race." 1 The university defined African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans to be historically "underrepresented minorities." 2 These minorities, Michigan alleged, had been the subject of historical injustices, and it was legitimate to take such experiences into consideration when building a freshman class much as one might consider the applicant's status as a son or a daughter of an alumni, the candidate's membership in the high school marching band, or location in another region of the country to lend geographic diversity to this state school, a recipient of federal funds.
A rejected student, the plaintiff Gratz and a number of other petitioners filed a class action lawsuit against the University of Michigan as the result of this enforced admissions policy.Gratz and others argued that the university's use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The would-be Michigan undergraduates argued that they had been denied admission but an underrepresented minority applicant with equal qualifications would have been admitted, thus the white defendants had been discriminated against because of their race, in violation of the law.By using the numerical points system, the defendants were able to demonstrate this in more clear and quantifiable terms than if race had be…

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