The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Supreme Court Says Race May Be a Factor in Admissions

Feature Story by civilrights.org staff - 6/23/2003

The U.S. Supreme Court today reaffirmed that universities may take race into consideration as one factor among many when selecting incoming students.

In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice O'Connor, the Court specifically endorsed Justice Powell's view in "Regents of the University of California v. Bakke" that student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify using race in university admissions.

"Effective participation by members of all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our Nation is essential if the dream of one Nation, indivisible, is to be realized, " the Court stated.

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, called today's U.S. Supreme Court's decision regarding the University of Michigan's race-based affirmative action programs "a great victory for America."

"In a close decision, the Supreme Court today reiterated America's commitment to affirmative action," said Henderson.

Ever since the Court's 1978 decision in "Bakke," educational institutions throughout the country have utilized various affirmative action programs as a means of counteracting the effects of past racial discrimination and providing greater educational opportunities to racial and ethnic minorities.

Opponents of affirmative action, however, have attacked these policies in the federal courts with increasing frequency.

In "Grutter v. Bollinger," the Court upheld that the University of Michigan's law school's affirmative action program. Citing "Brown v. Board of Education" for the proposition that "education...is the very foundation of good citizenship," the Court stated, "The diffusion of knowledge and opportunity through public institutions of higher education must be accessible to all individuals regardless of race or ethnicity."

"Gratz v. Bollinger" involved a separate challenge to the undergraduate admissions program used at the University of Michigan, which differs from the program used at the law school. The undergraduate program uses a system that assigns points for each of these factors, resulting in an overall score for each applicant. In a 6-3 opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Court held in "Gratz" that the university's use of race in this program was not narrowly tailored to achieve the university's asserted interest in diversity.

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