The University Record, May 20, 2002

Appeals court rules in favor of U-M affirmative action

By Anthony Collings
Office of the Vice President for Communications

In one of the most important civil rights cases in a generation, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of U-M’s affirmative action policy in admissions to the Law School. The decision received nationwide press coverage and was hailed by U-M administrators as a victory for all universities.

By a 5–4 vote, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 14 reversed a lower court ruling and upheld the University’s position that it has a compelling interest in achieving a diverse student body. The court cited the educational value of diversity. “The Law School . . . attends to the numbers and distribution of under-represented minority applicants in an effort to ensure all of its students obtain the benefits of an academically diverse student body,” Judge Boyce Martin wrote for the majority.

The court said the admissions policy at U-M Law School complies with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1978 Bakke decision, which permits race to be taken into consideration in admissions as long as there are no quotas. The court also indicated that U-M’s use of race as one of many factors in a competitive admissions process is a carefully crafted policy and one that is fair.

Interim President B. Joseph White called the decision “a great day for the University of Michigan and for educators across the nation.” He added, “I am delighted the court recognized that diversity brings educational benefits to all students—minority and majority alike.” Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman said, “We are grateful for the broad base of endorsement that our admissions policy has received in the past few years from other law schools, from the legal profession and from the business community. And we are proud to have played a part in this historic result.” Attorneys for a white applicant who had challenged the admissions policy said they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Legal experts said it was impossible to predict whether the High Court would agree to review the decision. In the past it has declined to review other appeals court decisions, both in favor of affirmative action in admissions and against it.

The 6th Circuit Court has not yet ruled in a separate case involving the use of affirmative action in U-M undergraduate admissions. A lower court upheld that policy in December 2000.