The Law School Authority

Grutter v. Bollinger Case Brief

Summary of Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003)

Facts: Avi Maria seeks educational diversity in line with Bakke by focusing on academic ability, talents, experiences, and potential.  Each applicant’s information is reviewed, including personal statement, letters of recomm, and essay explaining how the applicant would contribute to diversity at the school.  LSAT score and GPA are important considerations, but “no applicant should be admitted unless” expected “to do well enough to graduate w/ no serious academic problems.” Even the highest score does not guarantee admission, nor does a low score disqualify automatically.  Officials must look beyond grades and testing scores at “soft” variables.   Diversity is not narrowly defined by race or ethnicity–serves as a guide.  Grutter is white female resident of MI who applied w/ 3.8 GPA and 161 LSAT. She was rejected.

Issue(s): Whether U of M’s Law School admission policy that uses race as a factor violates 14th; and whether diversity is a compelling interest justifying the Narrowly Tailored use of race in the selection process for admission?

Holding: No.  Diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions under a variable “critical mass formula,” (as an individualized consideration), that is a narrowly tailored method used to maintain underrepresented minorities in law school.  C/Int, as a proper purpose, are presumed in GF absent a showing of bad faith.

Procedure: Pet filed suit against Law School. D Ct held bench trial re: race as factor in admission decisions and if consideration of race constituted race-based double standard C: use of race unlawful.  Ct of App Reversed.  US Sct. Affirmed.

Rule(s): 14th and 42 U.S. C. 2000(d), Title VI 42 U.S. C. 1981.  Bakke H: a state has a Sub’l interest that may be legitimately served by a properly devised admission program that uses race or ethnicity, in consideration along with other factors, only to provide diverse student body.

Rationale: The 14th protects ‘persons’ not groups and govt action based on race must be analyzed under Strict Scrutiny and such actions are constitutional only if narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest.  Absent judicial inquiry cannot determine if a classification is benign or remedial vs those that are motivated by racial inferiority or simple racial politics.

Satisfaction: when race-based action is necessary to further compelling St Int, that action does not violate Const’l guarantee of E P so long as NT.

J. Powell, Tradition and experience support the view that the contribution of diversity is substantial, but race is only one factor b/c the type of diversity that aids a compelling st int encompasses other qualifications and characteristics.

Even under St/Scr a degree of deference is given to U’s academic decisions w/i Cont’l limits.  A school’s interest in diversity is not limited to a specific percentage of a racial or ethnic group b/c that amts to impermissible Racial Balancing.  Diversity and Selection must be carefully balanced. Ensuring effective participation by all racial and ethnic groups in the civic life of our Nation remains an important and essential Govt objective.  Critical Mass furthers the C St Int.

To be Narrowly Tailored, a race-conscious admissions program cannot use a quota system, and may consider race ONLY as a “plus” factor w/o insulating the individual from comparison with other candidates.  Quotas impose a fixed # or % that must be reached and cannot be exceeded.  Use of the Critical Mass formula does not transform the program into a quota system b/c attention to numbers, w/o more, is not the same as a rigid quota requirement.  But, even if system is not a quota system or its equivalent, race cannot be a defining feature only a plus.


Narrowly tailored does require GF consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives, not exhaustion of every race-neutral alternative.  NT does not require choice btwn maintaining reputation for excellence or fulfilling a commitment to provide education’l ops for all races.

TIME: Govt’l use of race must have a sunset provisions and periodic reviews–25yrs the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interests of today.

DISSENT: Critical mass is really racial balancing and this methodology is not narrowly tailored to the interested asserted b/c the actual program bears no relation to the asserted goal.  Resp must show that their use of race FITS a C/St Int with greater precision than any alternative means.  The record indicates that the admission practices among underrepresented minorities differs dramatically and cannot be defended under any consistent use of the term “critical mass.”

From 1995-2000 the % of admitted applicants who were member of an underrepresented minority group closely matched the % of individuals in the school’s applicant pool who were from the same group.  Here the school failed to explain its actual admission policy and thus, the Ct must conclude its admission practices serve to offer admission to members of selected minority groups in proportion to their statistical representation.

J. Kennedy: The Ct does not use Strict Scrutiny b/c it failed to address how the school actually implements its admission policy.

J. Thomas: Racial discrim’n is not a permissible solution to the self-inflicted wounds of this elitist admission policy.  Diversity is the triggering mechanism a school uses to obtain educational benefits, it is not an end of itself–educational benefits are the end or the C/St Int.  The Court uphold the use of racial discrim’n as a tool to advance a Law School’s Int in offering a marginally superior education while maintaining an elite institution.  Marginal improvements in legal education do not qualify as a C/St. Int, merely good policy.  Mich has no compelling state interest in having a law school at all, let alone an elite one. The only state interest that are justifiable by operating a public law school is the education of that state’s citizens and training of that state’s lawyers.   U of M LS does little toward either.  Only 6% of applicants to Mi Bar graduated from U of M.  That few states maintain an elite law school raises a strong inference that there is nothing compelling about this interest.

Pet’s A: School’s plan is not narrowly tailored b/c race-neutral means exist to obtain the same result–educational diversity.

Resp’s A: Educational benefits flow from a Diverse Student Body.  Diversity is achieved here w/o any set % or # of minority students, but consideration of applicant’s race is used among other factors to ensure “critical mass” of underrepresented minority students.

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