Grutter vs. Bollinger and Gratz vs. Bollinger

Grutter vs Bollinger

This case is the first case in the new millennia that he Supreme Court hears about affirmative action in education. The last time was more than twenty five years ago in the “Regents of the University of California vs Bakke” decision.

The story goes that in 1996,Barbara Grutter, a white resident of Michigan was rejected admission by the University of Michigan Law School. She filed suit in December 1997. Her claim was that she was rejected because the Law School used race as principal factor for admission, giving applicants of underrepresented minority greater chance of admission than other race applicants. In March 2001, U.S. District Court ruled that the admissions policies were unconstitutional because they “clearly consider” race and are “practically indistinguishable from a quota system.” In May 2002, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, citing the Bakke decision and allowing the use of race to further the “compelling interest” of diversity (Devins, 2003: 347). So the case went to the Supreme Court. By a majority vote of 5-4 the Supreme Court authored by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, held that the United States Constitution “does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body” (Levy & Mellor, 2008; 198). But it was added by the majority opinion of the court that “25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today” (Devins, 2003: 348). By doing this the Supreme Court has appraised governmental policies of enhancing racial diversity within public institutions. As long as it is tailored carefully and narrowly, for the Court it is constitutional.

Gratz vs Bollinger

This case is very similar to the one described above. Two white applicants, Gratz and Hamacher applied foor entrance at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. They were both rejected entrance and after being contacted by the Center for Individual Rights they filed a suit in October 1997. Their claim was against the 150-point scale University of Michigan used to rank applicants. 100 points were needed for admission. The problem for them was that the University gave underrepresented ethnic groups, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, an automatic 20-point bonus on this scale, and a perfect SAT score was equivalence for 12 points. Like the Grutter case they were heard in District Court, appealed to the Circuit Appeal Court and finally went before the Supreme Court. By majority, the Supreme Court decided that Gratz and Hamacher had standing to seek declaratory and injunctive relief, relying on Northeastern Fla. Chapter, Associated Gen. Contractors of America vs Jacksonville. The decision held that the existence of a discriminatory barrier preventing a petitioner from seeking a benefit on an equal basis sufficed to establish injury, regardless of ultimate ability to obtain the benefit (US Supreme Court 508 U.S. 656). Here the Court made a distinction why it ruled different from the Grutter case. The problem was that having fixed quotas for admission was unconstitutional. This is completely different from having a policy that favors racial diversity. In this case the University of Michigan directly discriminates against certain categories of people. This is considered unlawful by the Supreme Court.

This distinction is made very clear in this ruling.


  1. Devins, Neal (2003). “Explaining Grutter v. Bollinger“. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 152 (1): 347–383.
  2. Levy, Robert. Mellor, William. (2008). “Equal Protection and Racial Preferences”. The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom. New York: Sentinel. pp. 198–214.
  3. The United States Supreme Court. Case 508 U.S. 656.
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