Opponents Ask Supreme Court to Hear Admissions CaseWASHINGTON
White students rejected for admission to the University of Michigan appealed to the Supreme Court early this month, asking the justices to decide an emotional affirmative action case without waiting for a lower court to rule.
The two would-be undergraduates claim they were unconstitutionally denied admission because of their race. They want the high court to hear their case alongside another that tests the race-conscious admissions policy at the same university’s law school.
A federal appeals court upheld the Michigan law school admission policy earlier this year, and a rejected White student appealed to the Supreme Court. The companion case addressing the school’s undergraduate policy was argued before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on the same day as the law school case, but the appeals court has neither ruled nor explained the delay.
Together, the Michigan admissions cases could reopen the volatile issue of what role, if any, race may play in determining who may enroll at most U.S. colleges and universities (see Black Issues, June 6, 2002).
“The two cases considered together will present the court with a broader spectrum and more substantial record within which to consider and rule upon the common principles that they involve,” lawyers for the rejected undergraduate students wrote.
The Supreme Court sent a mixed message in its last ruling on affirmative action in higher education issue in 1978 and has declined to revisit the issue several times since. Lawyers on both sides of the affirmative action debate have predicted the court will use the Michigan challenges to clarify ambiguities left over from the 1978 case.
At issue in the Michigan undergraduate case is a scoring system for applicants that assigned a 20-point bonus for Black, Hispanic and American Indian applicants to the university’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts.
The case “presents issues of fundamental national importance … and the resolution of these issues will almost certainly have effects that extend far beyond the parties to the case,” lawyers for rejected students Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher wrote in asking the Supreme Court to step in. A lawyer for Gratz and Hamacher said they could not wait any longer for an appeals court ruling.
The high court is expected to say this fall whether it will hear the law school case. If the justices chose, they could now accept or reject both appeals at the same time.
The students’ request is highly unusual. Ordinarily, the high court only considers a case when lower court appeals are final.
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