U.S. Supreme Court Will Hear Affirmative Action Cases

Media 12.2.02

Washington, DC ? The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear two cases involving the use of race conscious affirmative action at the University of Michigan. The Court is expected to hear oral arguments in early Spring 2003.

Unsuccessful applicants to the University of Michigan’s Law School and the undergraduate College of Literature, Science and the Arts, filed the two lawsuits in 1997. The plaintiffs in both suits claim that their rejections for admission were the result of discrimination against them for being white. In addition, a coalition of prospective and current students, parents and community leaders has intervened in both cases to argue that affirmative action is necessary to address racial and ethnic discrimination.

“Gratz v. Bollinger (undergraduate school case) and Grutter v. Bollinger (Law School case) represent the most significant civil rights cases the Supreme Court will have decided in the last quarter century. This issue is nothing less than whether the doors of opportunity remain open for students of color at highly selective institutions,” said Theodore “Ted” Shaw, Associate Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. “On behalf of African-American and Latino students, we look forward to presenting our arguments before the Supreme Court and resolving this long-contested issue.”

“Today’s announcement means that the Supreme Court has accepted the challenge to exercise constitutional leadership on an issue of vital importance. By reaffirming both the University of Michigan’s favorable ruling in the Sixth Circuit and the Supreme Court precedent of Bakke, the Justices will be able to resolve the circuit splits across the nation and continue to ensure equality of opportunity through affirmative action,” said Marcia Greenberger, Co-President, National Women’s Law Center.

This marks the first time since the Bakke case in 1978 that the Supreme Court has accepted a case involving affirmative action in higher education. In previous terms, the Court declined to hear cases involving the admissions programs at the University of Texas and the University of Washington, two cases in which the circuit courts came to different conclusions regarding the Bakke standard, that race could be considered to achieve a diverse student body. In May 2002, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in the Law School case (Grutter v. Bollinger) that upheld the consideration of race in its admissions program, consistent with the Bakke holding, and thus, creating further conflict among the various circuits. It was widely expected that the Court would agree to hear one or both of these suits because of the issues involved.

Shirley J. Wilcher, Executive Director of Americans for a Fair Chance, said, “The future of America is contingent upon creating opportunities for tomorrow’s leaders. As America is becoming increasingly diverse, affirmative action to promote a diverse student body and to remedy past discrimination continues to be a national imperative.” According to an AFC Survey, two-thirds of Americans continue to support affirmative action in the college admissions process.

Americans For A Fair Chance is a nonpartisan consortium of six of America’s leading civil rights legal organizations, including Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, National Women’s Law Center, and the National Partnership for Women and Families.