Roberts Court May Review Affirmative Action Admissions


It looks like, come October, the Roberts Court may get the chance to weigh in on race-conscious admission policies at public colleges and universities, raising the concern that the court will unwind racial discrimination protections in education the way they have in employment.

The last time the court looked at race-conscious admission policies was in 2003 when it issued a pair of controversial decisions involving the University of Michigan. The first, Gratz v. Bollinger, held that the university’s undergraduate admissions policy was unconstitutionally discriminatory because it automatically awarded a bonus to applicants who were members of underrepresented minority groups.

But in the second decision, Grutter v. Bollinger, the court upheld the law’s school’s policy of considering race as part of a holistic evaluation of an applicant finding that the government had a compelling interest in diversity, including seeking a “critical mass” of minority students. Taken together, the rulings appear to allow colleges and universities to use an applicant’s race as part of the admissions consideration so long as that admission policy is, among other things, narrowly tailored, free of quotas, flexible and individualized, does not award points simply on the basis of race and faces periodic review.

Winding through the appellate system now are two new cases that may call into question the Gratz and Grutter decisions. One comes from Michigan and the other from Texas.

The Michigan case involves the state’s 2006 constitutional amendment that forbids the state’s public colleges and universities from granting “preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin.” A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, ruled that the amendment violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because it restructures the state’s political structure to the detriment of minorities. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) has asked the full circuit to review the decision and has promised a petition to the Roberts Court should he lose before the full circuit.

The Texas case involves a race-conscious admissions policy at the University of Texas-Austin. Texas law provides that graduates in the top 10 percent of their Texas high school may be automatically admitted to any state university. Those students represent a large portion of freshman classes and, by one estimate, about 30 percent of those students are from underrepresented minority groups. But UT officials do not feel 30 percent is enough in a state in which, very soon, there will be no racial majority, so it instituted a policy that, according to a split panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, satisfies the requirements set forth in the Grutter decision. The justices dissenting in this case all but invited the Supreme Court to step in, and the plaintiff’s have until September to file their petition for review.

Photo from steakpinball via flickr.


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Ann G.
Ann G6 years ago

I don't support affirmative action because I believe that it is unfair. Why should someone be admitted before me simply because they are of a different color skin than I am? It's reverse discrimination. What if, instead, schools were to implement a "page turned" policy whereby details such as an applicant's gender, age, race, etc., were on a separate page and were not discovered until AFTER the school had decided to admit them? Wouldn't that be a better and more fair way to do it?

Margaret C.
Margaret C6 years ago

I knew this issue would upset me. All those who wrote about Thomas having affirmative action to get him where he is, you are right on. He's an idiot. In terms of others who want to cry "not fair," well, life isn't fair, try asking those people of color who never had a chance at a nice white school in a great neighborhood but who have been relegated to live on the outskirts of "the privileged world." For you Empress G., until you can walk in another's shoes, think before you talk. And fyi, test scores, GPAs, can't tell the true level of a child's knowledge, be they of color or white, many get in on the essays, who tells a lot about who they are as a person, as opposed to a color. Believe it or not, a lot of white kids wouldn't have made it to college either, if it depended on their test scores. However, more of them do get in before a black or a Native American would. You want if to be "fair?" Then it has to be that way for everyone or no one at all!

Mike B.
Michael Barnes6 years ago

Thomas, who certainly benefitted from affirmative action, will suck up to his corporate sponsors and rule against it.

Linda T.
Linda T6 years ago

So much for affimative action in this country. It's sad that those never dicriminated against thinks that affirmative action is bad for the country as a hole.

Mark Alan Dellavecchia

Sadly, there is still a need in this country for affirmative action admissions programs. The educational environment is enhanced through diversity - just as this site benefits from the diversity of its non-discriminatory admissions policy. Any time someone collects information, it can be used for good or ill. Example: Verizon uploads my contact information from my cell phone nightly, so that if I lose it, they can pre-program the information into my new replacement phone. That is good for me. However, it does not change the fact that 'Big Brother' is snooping in my cell phone nightly.

I have toyed with how an admissions packet could be stripped of all identifying information as to the applicants age, race, gender, creed, et cetera - and still be a meaningful representation of who this person is. While many documents could identify the person solely by their ID Number (aka: Social Security Number), what to do with letters of recommendation? Would they need to go through a redaction process and have all references to the person which could be used to discriminate blacked-out like in those declassified documents? And, once stripped of this information, would they be of any value at all in evaluating the candidate?

Personally, I am 'white.' However, I have used 'Native American' because I was born here, and 'African-American' as the anthropologist say we all came from there: It is just a question of when your ancestors left.

Patricia A.
Patricia A6 years ago

Look up supreme in the dictionary, also justice. Something's not right here.

Gary A L.
Gary L6 years ago

the only why to restore balance to our court system is two impeach those five so-called justices who voted in favor of citizens united

paul c.
paul c6 years ago

If they could make it retroactive, there wouldn't even BE a Justice Thomas. He has acknowledged personally benefiting from the Affirmative Action policies he now opposes.

Empress Ginger
Ginger Strivelli6 years ago

With my white daughter going into college next year this time..I must say I am a bit irked by the favoritism shown to 'students of color' at some colleges in reguards to admissions requirements....for every one they 'affirmative action' thru that kicks some white kid out..I know it's not PC to say but the fair honest moral thing would be to admit based on test scores, GPAs, and achievements with no regard at all to skin color.