Supreme Court Asked To Hear University Of Michigan CaseANN ARBOR, Mich.
A group that sued to overturn minority preferences in University of Michigan law school admissions has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled 5-4 on May 14 that the Michigan law school’s affirmative action policies did not constitute illegal discrimination (see Black Issues, June 6, 2002).
The court said the law school had a compelling interest in achieving a diverse student body. The appeals court has not yet decided a similar case about the university’s undergraduate admissions.
Legal scholars have said the Michigan case could give the Supreme Court an opportunity to revisit California’s Bakke case of 1978, which allowed consideration of race in admissions but banned racial quotas. In that case, a five-justice majority struck down the state-sponsored school’s quota-based admissions program. Justice Lewis F. Powell wrote separately that schools could still consider race, so long as they did not use quotas. Courts around the country have set contradictory rules since then.
“I did not expect that it would take this long, but despite that, I am very glad to be at this point,” says plaintiff Barbara Grutter, 48, who is White. The Center for Individual Rights sued for her after she was denied admission to the Michigan law school in 1996.
Grutter claims she was denied admission at the University of Michigan because of her race. She had higher grades and test scores than some minority applicants who got in.
“At the most fundamental level, the question it raises is whether our nation’s principles of equal protection and nondiscrimination mean the same thing for all races,” her lawyers wrote in asking the justices to hear her appeal the 6th Circuit ruling.
The Supreme Court agrees to hear about 100 of the 7,000 cases submitted to it each year. The earliest date the justices could accept the case is Oct. 7, the start of their next term. If they do, it would probably be argued in early 2003.
“If the court is disposed to review this question, then I think this is a very good case for it,” says Robert Sedler, a Wayne State University law professor.
The high court has declined to hear appeals of similar suits challenging affirmative action policies at the University of Texas and University of Washington.
“If it does go to the Supreme Court, we feel confident we have a strong case,” says University of Michigan attorney Jonathan Alger. “We feel the 6th Circuit did apply the law appropriately.”
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