The Melting Pot In Higher Education: Judge Rules Affirmative Action
judge set the stage today for a renewed debate, perhaps even in
the United States Supreme Court, over affirmative action programs
in higher education. In the March 27th ruling from the
U.S. District Court of Michigan, Southern Division, the judge found
that the admission's system of the University of Michigan law school
was unconstitutional because it considered an applicant's race.
This decision contradicts a December 2000 decision, in the same
court district but by a different judge, that the consideration
of race can be a factor in undergraduate admissions at the university
because a racially and ethnically diverse student body produces
significant educational benefits.
in adopting its affirmative action programs at the law school and
undergraduate level, notes that "diversity in higher education
plays a critical role in preparing students to become leaders in
business and other pursuits that affect the public interest."
(Message from University President Lee C. Bollinger, January 2001).
Opponents of the programs argue that the only way to raise academic
standards is to tighten admissions criteria.
racial and ethnic diversity in higher education is a compelling
state interest is a central question in both cases. In the most
recent decision, the judge ruled that the law school admissions
program must be race-neutral because racial distinctions are inherently
suspect and encroach upon constitutional protections. The undergraduate
case is on appeal; the law school plans to appeal the more recent
interpretations coming from the dueling decisions of the court may
ultimately result in sending the issue back to the U.S. Supreme
Court for the first time since its 1978 ruling in University
of California Regents v. Bakke, wherein the Court struck
down the university's admissions policy but said the university
could consider race as one of several "plus factors" in
considering applicants. Since this seminal decision, lower court
decisions, state initiatives and referenda, and executive actions
have dealt blows to affirmative action programs throughout the country.
to census figures released last week, non-Hispanic whites are officially
a minority in California. Shouldn't this information, and similar
census figures coming from Texas and Florida, push the pendulum
even further away from affirmative action efforts in the nation's
colleges and universities?
PANEL RULES THAT UNIVERSITY CAN USE RACE IN ADMISSIONS THIS
6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, OH granted the
University of Michigan's request to stay the injunction against
the law schools use of race in admissions so that the
University could continue using its admissions process this
appeals panel halted the order recently issued by U.S. District
Judge Bernard Friedman that prohibited the university to use
race as a factor in admission to the law school. Judge Friedman
had ruled that the admissions system was unconstitutional
and that the law school could only continue to admit students
without using race in the selection process.
appeals court ruled that the injunction against the law school
was causing irreparable harm to the university because it
was disruptive of the admissions process for this fall. The
appeals panel did agree to expedite the Universitys
appeal of the lower court ruling as part of their recent decision.
to Legal Archive 2001
Court of Appeals Rules Affirmative Action Can Be Used in Admissions
your seat now at the United States Supreme Court for the almost
certain debate about race-based admissions policies. In the
long and contentious debate over preferential admissions policies,
advocates of affirmative action were handed a big win this
week when the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth
Circuit (which includes Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee)
found it permissible for the University of Michigan Law School
to consider race as a factor.
a 5-4 decision, the court said that the state institution
has a compelling interest in preserving a diverse student
body and that it does not violate 14th Amendment
constitutional protections for the university to consider
race and ethnicity for the purpose of admitting a diverse
class. The slender ruling overturns the lower court.
ruling is in sharp contrast to a 1996 Fifth Circuit Court
of Appeals ruling in Hopwood v. University of Texas,
striking down use of race-conscious admissions. Two other
circuit courts add to the fractured judgments, with the Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of race-based college
admissions and the Eleventh Circuit ruling against such race-based
has been 24 years since the Supreme Court established guidelines
for the appropriate consideration of race in university admissions.
In that case, Regents of the University of California v.
Bakke, the Court held that racial diversity on campus
was a compelling government interest.
the Supreme Court provides further guidance, conflicting opinions
will likely persist. A second case still before the Sixth
Circuit challenges Michigans use of race in its undergraduate
admissions. Unlike the law school case, the lower court upheld