Grutter v. Bollinger

LOCATION: The University of Michigan Law School Graduate Admissions

DOCKET NO.: 02-241
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 539 US 306 (2003)
ARGUED: Apr 01, 2003
DECIDED: Jun 23, 2003

George B. Washington - for respondent James et al.
Kirk O. Kolbo - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Maureen E. Mahoney - Argued the cause for the respondent
Miranda K. S. Massie - for respondent James et al.
Theodore B. Olson - as amicus curiae, supporting Petitioner

Facts of the case

In 1997, Barbara Grutter, a white resident of Michigan, applied for admission to the University of Michigan Law School. Grutter applied with a 3.8 undergraduate GPA and an LSAT score of 161. She was denied admission. The Law School admits that it uses race as a factor in making admissions decisions because it serves a "compelling interest in achieving diversity among its student body." The District Court concluded that the Law School's stated interest in achieving diversity in the student body was not a compelling one and enjoined its use of race in the admissions process. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held that Justice Powell's opinion in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978), constituted a binding precedent establishing diversity as a compelling governmental interest sufficient under strict scrutiny review to justify the use of racial preferences in admissions. The appellate court also rejected the district court's finding that the Law School's "critical mass" was the functional equivalent of a quota.


Does the University of Michigan Law School's use of racial preferences in student admissions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Media for Grutter v. Bollinger

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 01, 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 23, 2003 in Grutter v. Bollinger

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court, in No. 02-241, Grutter against Bollinger will be announced by Justice O'Connor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The University of Michigan Law School strives to assemble a highly capable diverse student body by focusing on academic ability as well as on each applicant's talents, experiences, and potential.

The Law School's admissions policy does not define diversity solely in terms of race but it does reaffirm the Law School's commitment to the inclusion of African-American, Latino, and Native-American students who might otherwise not be present in meaningful numbers.

Petitioner Barbara Grutter is a white Michigan resident who was denied admission to the Law School.

She filed this suit alleging that respondents unlawfully discriminated against her on the basis of race.

The District Court agreed with petitioner but the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk of the Court today, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals, and hold that the Law School's use of race in admissions is narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest in assembling a diverse student body.

We last addressed the use of race in University admissions in the landmark Bakke case.

None of the six opinions in that case garnered a majority.

Justice Powell announcing the judgment provided a fifth vote not only for invalidating the racial set aside program at issue in Bakke but also for reversing the lower court's injunction against any use of race, whatever.

In part of his opinion joined by no other justice, Justice Powell concluded that attaining a diverse student body was the only interest asserted by the University that could survive scrutiny

Since Bakke universities across the nation have modeled their admissions programs on Justice Powell's views concerning permissible race-conscious admissions policies.

Courts however have struggled to discern whether Justice Powell's diversity rationale is binding precedent.

We need not decide that question because we endorse Justice Powell's views and in the context of higher education, student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify a narrowly tailored use of race in admission.

Our scrutiny of the Law School's interest in attaining a diverse student body is no less strict for taking into account complex educational judgments in an area that lies primarily within the university's expertise.

The educational benefits that flow from student body diversity are substantiated by numerous expert studies and reports showing that such diversity promotes learning and better prepares students for an increasingly heterogenous workforce. for responsible citizenship, and for the legal profession.

Indeed, high ranking retired officer's and civilian military leaders assert that a highly qualified, racially diverse officer corp drawn in large part from college ROTC programs is essential to our nation's security.

Moreover, because universities and law schools in particular represent the training ground for a large number of our nation's leaders, this path to leadership must be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity.

The Law School's race admissions program is also narrowly tailored to further the interest we approve today.

The Law School considers race only as a plus in a particular applicant's file and gives serious consideration to all the ways besides race that an applicant might contribute to a diverse educational environment.

The Law School's pursuit of a critical mass of under represented minority operates neither as a quota nor a two track admission system.

Moreover, the Law School engages in a highly individualized holistic review of each applicant.

We are also satisfied that the Law School sufficienty considered workable race neutral alternatives before resorting to race-based means to obtain the educational benefits of diversity that the Law School seeks, and in the context of its individualized inquiry into the possible diversity contributions of all applicants, the Law School's race-conscious admissions program does not unduly harm non-minority applicants.

Now, we are mindful that a core purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to do away with all governmentally imposed discrimination based on race.

Accordingly, race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time, enshrining a permanent justification for racial preferences would offend this fundamental equal protection principle.

We see no reason to exempt race conscious admissions program from the requirement that all governmental uses of race must have a logical end point.

We take the Law School at its word that it would like nothing better than defined a race-neutral admissions formula and will terminate its race-conscious admissions program as soon as practicable.

It has been 25 years since Justice Powell first suggested approval of the use of race to further an interest in student body diversity in the context of higher education.

We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest that we approve today.