Casteen: Affirmative action
rulings consistent with U.Va.s policy
and television crews gathered outside the Supreme Court in
Washington June 23, as the Court announced its 5-4 ruling
to uphold an affirmative action program at the University
of Michigan law school.
legal scholars pored over Mondays U.S. Supreme Courts
decisions upholding the use of race as a factor in university
admissions, U.Va. President
John T. Casteen III said the rulings appear to match the Universitys
separate cases involving University of Michigans undergraduate
and law school admission processes, the court issued a narrow
5-4 decision that allows schools to continue to take the race
of an applicant into consideration in the interest of building
a diverse student body. However, the Court voted 6-3 to strike
down the Michigan undergraduate admission offices use of
a system of awarding a set number of bonus points for membership
in an underrepresented minority, holding that an applicants
racial status must be considered on a case-by-case basis.
ruling by the Supreme Court is a welcome one, and it has clarified
the law as we hoped it would, Casteen said. To the
extent that we understand the ruling following an initial review,
the Court has approved admission practices that appear to be essentially
those that we follow.
Universitys General Counsel will take the time necessary
to do a thorough review of Mondays decisions, Casteen said.
about six years, U.Va. used a 20-point system that added two points
to an applicants score for being a member of an underrepresented
minority. That system, though quick and efficient, was abandoned
in 1999 when the University returned to a previous, more labor-intensive
process: painstakingly reading every application and preparing
a written summary of each applicant. The current system includes
a checklist of 19 factors, including diversity, but the factors
are not assigned any specific weight.
was a strong feeling at the University that the intense reading
process gave us a truer picture of each student as an individual,
said University spokeswoman Carol Wood. The president and
[Dean of Admission
John A. Blackburn] decided it was best for the University to implement
the more rigorous reading process. As we sought to build strong
classes that were an interesting mix of young people, the reading
approach made more sense.
of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman hailed the Courts
decision, and promised to change U-Ms undergraduate admissions
rulings were seen as a reaffirmation of the Supreme Courts
1978 opinion in the case of the University of California Regents
v. Bakke authored by Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. for a
narrow 5-4 majority that held that racial and other kinds
of diversity could be taken into account in a properly crafted
Law School Dean John C. Jeffries Jr., a former Powell clerk and
biographer, said Mondays ruling endorsed Powells reasoning
25 years ago, requiring an admission process that is individually
was what I expected and hoped for, but no one can predict Supreme
Court rulings with confidence, Jeffries said.
D. B. Walker, project director at the Center for the Study of
Local Knowledge at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American
and African Studies, was also pleased with the ruling.
bodes well for the future of affirmative action in higher education
and the use of race in these decisions, he said.
Walker fears that it will not be the last word. Opponents
of affirmative action want to see an end to it, he said.
This is not the last say on this issue.
pair of discrimination cases brought against the University of
Michigan began in 1997. When minority applicants with lower test
scores were selected over white candidates Barbara Grutter and
Jennifer Gratz, the two women sued Michigans undergraduate
and law schools, respectively. They cited the 14th Amendment to
the Constitution, which holds that the states must provide equal
protection of the laws, and charged that Michigans
racially preferential policies denied them that protection.
undergraduate admission office used a point system to evaluate
applicants. Along with test scores and high school records, school
officials considered such factors as membership in an underrepresented
race, which automatically granted 20 points to minorities. While
Michigans law school did not employ the point system, minority
status is one of the factors used to determine which students
Court struck down the undergraduate admission point system, but
upheld the law schools less standardized process.
the Michigan cases hearing in April, universities, colleges,
students, corporations, politicians and military officers filed
a record deluge of hundreds of friend of the court
corporate and military leaders argued that racial diversity in
colleges and professional schools is needed not to compensate
for past racial discrimination, but to prepare minorities for
leadership positions. Meanwhile, proponents at colleges and universities
insisted that affirmative action was needed to blend students
with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and foster the best
remained skeptical, calling for carefully tailored affirmative
action policies only when universities are unable to achieve racial
diversity through other means.
Mondays ruling puts the legal issue to rest at least
for the time being but probably will not end the debate,
1978 the court was divided 5-4 and the country was very nearly
split, Jeffries noted Monday. Today the court is divided
5-4 and the country is closely split. That shows how difficult
these problems are.
Kelly and Lauren Fischer contributed to this report.
ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
1950 Sweatt v. Painter, McLaurin
v. Oklahoma State Regents Prohibits the segregation of
black students in law and graduate schools. Inspires the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People, along with
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, to devise a plan to force
the Supreme Courts reexamination of its separate but
Brown v. Board of Education Upon a black familys
request to send their daughter to a nearby white elementary school,
the Supreme Court orders all public schools to integrate. The
decision overturns the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling and denounces
the notion of separate but equal.
Civil Rights Act of 1964 Prohibits discrimination in public
accommodations, such as hotels and restaurants, as well as any
programs that receive federal funding, and establishes the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission.
University of California v. Bakke After being denied admission
twice, white college applicant Allan Bakke sues the admissions
office at the University of California at Davis medical school,
charging that the school granted admission to minority candidates
with lower test scores and GPAs. With an entering class of 100,
the school set aside 16 spots for minority students in a special
admissions program, which the Supreme Court deemed a violation
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Bakke eventually won admission to the medical school, the Supreme
Court upheld the constitutionality of using race and ethnicity
in the university admissions process to promote diversity.
City of Richmond v. Croson By invalidating the citys
established minority-business set-aside program, the Supreme Court
demands a stricter standard of review for affirmative action programs.
Such programs must have a compelling government interest,
and carefully tailored goals.
Hopwood v. Texas After being denied admission, white applicant
Cheryl Hopwood sues the University of Texas Law School, claiming
that minority students who were less qualified in terms of grades
and test scores were granted admission. A Court of Appeals in
the Fifth Circuit barred all higher education institutions in
its judicial district from considering race as a major factor
in selecting their student populations. The circuit court called
affirmative action policies discriminatory and ended racial considerations
in all colleges in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
October: Jennifer Gratz, a white applicant, files a
lawsuit against the University of Michigan Undergraduate Admissions
Office upon receiving a rejection from the school, charging that
minority students with poorer grades and lower test scores were
1997: Barbara Grutter Also a white applicant, sues the
University of Michigan Law School, citing similar grievances to
those of Gratz.
University of Virginia Office ofAdmission Eliminates
booster points for minority students, although race
remains one factor among many in the admissions process.
January: Bush administration lawyers File briefs with the
Supreme Court, arguing that the University of Michigans
admission policies, in an effort to increase minority enrollment,
utilize a quota system, and therefore are unconstitutional.
February: Supreme Court agrees to hear both Gratz v. Bollinger
and Grutter v. Bollinger, unleashing a flood of 74 amicus curiae
briefs filed in support of the University of Michigan and its
promotion of diversity by more than 14,000 students, colleges
and universities, law schools, professional and national education
organizations, retired military leaders and executives.