In the landmark 2003 case of Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court ruled that giving special consideration to race in student admissions policy (known as affirmative action) was constitutional. This decision stood for 20 years but was overturned in June 2023 with the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of SSFA v. University of North Carolina and its companion case SSFA v. Harvard.
University of North Carolina had admission processes that instructed reviewers to consider race and ethnicity as factors alongside other academic, character, and extracurricular characterizations of applicants. They may give students a substantial “plus” in the race/ethnicity category should they believe it is warranted. Students were not required to list their race or ethnicity on their application, and the university did not have any race quotas for its student demographics. UNC argued that its policy was designed to promote racial diversity in its student body, which would bring educational benefits to all.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that UNC and Harvard’s policies of considering race and ethnicity in their admission process was unconstitutional. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion of the Court, stating, “[UNC and Harvard’s] programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping, and lack meaningful end points. We have never permitted admissions programs to work in that way, and we will not do so today… Many universities have for too long…concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that affirmative action policies that considered a student’s race and ethnicity would help bring about greater equality and were therefore justifiable. She wrote, “By ending race-conscious college admissions, this Court closes the door of opportunity that the Court’s precedents helped open to young students of every race… True equality of educational opportunity in racially diverse schools is an essential component of the fabric of our democratic society. It is an interest of the highest order and a foundational requirement for the promotion of equal protection under the law.”
1. Describe the admissions policy that UNC had that was challenged in court.
2. How did the Court rule? Do you agree with their ruling? Why or why not?
Big Idea Question
- Do you believe affirmative action upholds or violates the principle of equality? Explain your answer.
- Have students watch the Homework Help video on Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978). What similarities do they notice between this case and the case involving UNC? What differences?
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978)
Case background and primary source documents concerning the Supreme Court case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Dealing with the principle of Equal Protection and affirmative action, this lesson asks students to asses whether or not the University of California at Davis's special admissions program resulted in unconstitutional reverse discrimination.
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke | BRI’s Homework Help Series
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke was a case brought to the Supreme Court over the use of Affirmative Action in the college admission process. The University of California at Davis Medical School created a minimum minority student quote for the admissions department to fill each year. Bakke, a two-time UC-Davis Med School rejected applicant, sued the school for violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and title VI of the Civil Rights Acts. Ultimately, the Supreme Court justices ruled in support of the goals of Affirmative Action, but also stated that Bakke was, in fact, denied equal protection. This decision, because it was so muddled, did not set long-tern precedents or clarifications concerning Affirmative Action.
Grutter v. Bollinger | BRI’s Homework Help Series
Grutter v. Bollinger was a case brought to the Supreme Court over the use of Affirmative Action in the college admissions process. The University of Michigan Law School denied acceptance to Barbara Grutter, despite her impressive resume. Grutter, a white woman, believed that her rejection was based on her race. The Supreme Court Justices ultimately ruled that the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions process was constitutional. However, there was doubt among the most conservative Supreme Court justices like Scalia and Rehnquist that affirmative action policy was a constitutional practice for university admission departments to take part in. Affirmative Action is still a highly debated topic today.
Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)
Case background and primary source documents concerning the Supreme Court case of Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. Dealing with the principle of equal protection and affirmative action, this lesson asks students to evaluate the Court's reasoning in upholding Grutter while striking down Gratz.