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Updated 1:00 PM June 24, 2003



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Excerpts from the undergraduate opinion

Chief Justice William Rehnquist delivered the majority opinion, in which justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas joined. Justice Stephen Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Petitioners argue, first and foremost, that the University's use of race in undergraduate admissions violates the Fourteenth Amendment. But for the reasons set forth today in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court has rejected these arguments.
(Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

[R]espondents contend that the LSA's policy provides the individualized consideration that "Justice Powell considered a hallmark of a constitutionally appropriate admissions program." For the reasons set out below, we do not agree.

"All racial classifications reviewable under the Equal Protection Clause must be strictly scrutinized." To withstand our strict scrutiny analysis, respondents must demonstrate that the University's use of race in its current admission program employs "narrowly tailored measures that further compelling governmental interests." We find that the University's policy, which automatically distributes 20 points, or one-fifth of the points needed to guarantee admission, to every single "underrepresented minority" applicant solely because of race, is not narrowly tailored to achieve the interest in educational diversity that respondents claim justifies their program.

Justice Powell's opinion in Bakke [the 1978 case that set the precedent for affirmative action at colleges and universities] emphasized the importance of considering each particular applicant as an individual, assessing all of the qualities that individual possesses, and, in turn, evaluating that individual's ability to contribute to the unique setting of higher education. The admissions program Justice Powell described, however, did not contemplate that any single characteristic automatically ensured a specific and identifiable contribution to a university's diversity. Instead, under the approach Justice Powell described, each characteristic of a particular applicant was to be considered in assessing the applicant's entire application.

The current LSA policy does not provide such individualized consideration. The LSA's policy automatically distributes 20 points to every single applicant from an "underrepresented minority" group, as defined by the University. The only consideration that accompanies this distribution of points is a factual review of an application to determine whether an individual is a member of one of these minority groups. Moreover, unlike Justice Powell's example, where the race of a "particular black applicant" could be considered without being decisive, the LSA's automatic distribution of 20 points has the effect of making "the factor of race decisive" for virtually every minimally qualified underrepresented minority applicant.

The fact that the implementation of a program capable of providing individualized consideration might present administrative challenges does not render constitutional an otherwise problematic system.

We conclude, therefore that because the University's use of race in its current freshman admissions policy is not narrowly tailored to achieve respondents' asserted compelling interest in diversity, the admissions policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. ...

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