Making sure that all people are treated equally under the law is important in our country. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided many cases to improve the treatment and equal protection of women, people of different races and ethnic groups, and people with different physical and mental abilities. Cases continue to come before the Supreme Court that raise complicated questions about equality. Today, you are going to take the roles of Supreme Court justices and attorneys to hear an equal protection case. This case is about a college accepting or denying student admissions based on race.
In 1978 the Supreme Court decided the case of California v. Bakke. To prepare for the case, you will need some background about a couple of other equal protection cases that were decided. In this case, the University of California was concerned that there were very few African American, Mexican American or disadvantaged students in its medical school.
To make sure that more minority and disadvantaged students were accepted, the university set up a special admissions program. The medical school saved some slots that only minority or disadvantaged students could apply for. Special ApplicationsEveryone Else
The Supreme Court ruled that having a special admissions program based on race was unconstitutional under the “…No state shall make or enforce any laws which shall abridge the privileges… of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person…the equal protection of the laws.” 14th Amendment
The court decided that schools cannot accept or deny students based only on race or ethnicity. Everyone has to have an equal shot at getting in. But the court also said that having diverse student populations in our universities and colleges is very important to our democracy. Universities should do their best to have students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but they must do it without violating the Constitution.
For the last 25 years, colleges throughout the country designed their admissions programs based on the Bakke decision.
In 2003, two cases came before the Supreme Court dealing with college admissions. Both cases were about admissions at the University of Michigan. In the first case, Grutter v. Bollinger, Barbara Grutter applied to get into Michigan’s law school. Grutter was Caucasian and had a high grade-point average and high test scores. Grutter was not accepted, but other students with lower grades and test scores were. She took the director of admissions to court.
The university argued that: Having students from diverse backgrounds is important to providing a good law school education to all of their students. Every qualified applicant is judged on an individual basis. The law school looks for students who are most likely to succeed and contribute different ideas and experiences. Race or ethnicity is only one of the factors that is considered a plus. The law school also values other forms of diversity, including life experiences of individuals.
The Supreme Court agreed with the university. In the second case, Gratz v. Bollinger, two students, both Caucasian, applied to get into the University of Michigan’s Literature, Science and Arts program. Both were high school graduates with good test scores and grade-point averages. The court held that the law school’s admission program did not violate the 14th Amendment.
The university had a system for trying to ensure a racially and ethnically diverse student body. The admissions department received over 13,000 applications each year, and could accept under 4,000 students. Each application was read and scored using a mathematical system. test scores, high school grades, leadership and high school activities, and ethnicity/race. The system awarded points to applicants based on many factors including... Every African-American, Hispanic, and Native American application automatically got 20 points.
Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher did not have enough points for admission, but if they had received the points given to the three minority groups, they would have been accepted. They took the admissions director to court, and the case ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. You are going to participate in this Supreme Court case.
The question before the court: Does the University of Michigan’s use of racial preferences violate the 14th Amendment?
Both sides presented oral arguments and briefs to the appeals courts. The admissions policy is a violation of the 14th Amendment because it does not treat all students equally. The students were not as competitive as others based on race or ethnicity. Minority students were more competitive because they got extra points. Attorneys for the students presented this argument: The students were denied the opportunity to compete for admissions on an equal basis.
The university has a right to ensure that its student body is diverse. It is important to the quality of education for all students. The University of Michigan’s lawyers presented this argument to the appeals court: The system makes it more fair for all students to have a chance to attend this school, even those who did not have the same opportunities earlier in life and in high school as others. Though the system gives points to certain racial and ethnic groups, it also gives the same amount of points to athletes or disadvantaged students.
Attorneys for the university. Attorneys for the students (Gratz). Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. You will take the roles of:
To prepare for the case... Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court: Create at least three questions to ask each side to help you determine the case. Attorneys for University of Michigan: Create arguments to convince the court that the admissions system is fair and necessary to provide a diverse student population. Attorneys for the students: Create arguments to convince the justices that the admission policy is not fair to Gratz and Hamacher or other students who are not African- American, Hispanic, or Native American. Decide who will represent your group to perform the moot court.
Rules for the Oral Argument 1. Attorneys for the students (Gratz) will present first. 2. Attorneys for the University of Michigan (Bollinger) will present second. 3. Justices will ask questions of both sides during the arguments. The Justices’ Decision 1. After oral arguments, the justices meet and discuss the case. 2. Then they vote. 3. The justices will explain the reasons for the decision.
The Supreme Court Decision: Gratz v. Bollinger, 2003 We conclude...that the University’s use of race in its current freshman admissions policy...violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Rehnquist wrote the court’s majority decision. He talked about the difference between Michigan’s Law School case and the Gratz case. The law school case was upheld because each student who applied was considered individually. Everyone had a more equal chance of getting in based on his or her individual strengths. Being a member of a particular racial or ethnic group might be a plus, but other life experiences could be just as important.
In the Gratz case, the undergraduate admissions system automatically gave preference to three minority groups based only on race and ethnicity. The system’s mathematical formula did not allow for individual strengths and weaknesses. The U.S. Supreme Court found the system unconstitutional because it did not treat individuals from different racial and ethnic groups equally. From The Record, University of Michigan’s newspaper, 9/2003 A new process for undergraduate admissions will gather more information about student applicants and include multiple levels of highly individualized review. The new process, announced Aug. 28, was developed over the past several weeks in order to comply with the June 23 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States.