Grutter v. Bollinger
539 U.S. 306 (2003)
[Majority: O’Connor, Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer. Concurring: Ginsburg. Concurring and dissenting in part Scalia, Thomas. Dissenting: Rehnquist, C.J. and Kennedy.]
Justice O’Connor delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case requires us to decide whether the use of race as a factor in student admissions by the University of Michigan Law School (Law School) is unlawful.
I-A. The Law School ranks among the Nation’s top law schools. It receives more than 3,500 applications each year for a class of around 350 students. Seeking to “admit a group of students who individually and collectively are among the most capable,” the Law School looks for individuals with “substantial promise for success in law school” and “a strong likelihood of succeeding in the practice of law and contributing in diverse ways to the well-being of others.” More broadly, the Law School seeks “a mix of students with varying backgrounds and experiences who will respect and learn from each other.” In 1992, the dean of the Law School charged a faculty committee with crafting a written admissions policy to implement these goals. In particular, the Law School sought to ensure that its efforts to achieve student body diversity complied with this Court’s most recent ruling on the use of race in university admissions. See Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke (1978). Upon the unanimous adoption of the committee’s report by the Law School faculty, it became the Law School’s official admissions policy.
The hallmark of that policy is its focus on academic ability coupled with a flexible assessment of applicants’ talents, experiences, and potential “to contribute to the learning of those around them.” The policy requires admissions officials to evaluate each applicant based on all the information available in the file, including a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and an essay describing the ways in which the applicant will contribute to the life and diversity of the Law School. In reviewing an applicant’s file, admissions officials must consider the applicant’s undergraduate grade point average (GPA) and Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score because they are important (if imperfect) predictors of academic success in law school. The policy stresses that “no applicant should be admitted unless we expect that applicant to do well enough to graduate with no serious academic problems.”
The policy makes clear, however, that even the highest possible score does not guarantee admission to the Law School. Nor does a low score automatically disqualify an applicant. Rather, the policy requires admissions officials to look beyond grades and test scores to other criteria that are important to the Law School’s educational objectives. So-called “‘soft’ variables” such as “the enthusiasm of recommenders, the quality of the undergraduate institution, the quality of the applicant’s essay, and the areas and difficulty of undergraduate course selection” are all brought to bear in assessing an “applicant’s likely contributions to the intellectual and social life of the institution.”
The policy aspires to “achieve that diversity which has the potential to enrich everyone’s education and thus make a law school class stronger than the sum of its parts.” The policy does not restrict the types of diversity contributions eligible for “substantial weight” in the admissions process, but instead recognizes “many possible bases for diversity admissions.” The policy does, however, reaffirm the Law School’s longstanding commitment to “one particular type of diversity,” that is, “racial and ethnic diversity with special reference to the inclusion of students from groups which have been historically discriminated against, like African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, who without this commitment might not be represented in our student body in meaningful numbers.” By enrolling a “‘critical mass’ of [underrepresented] minority students,” the Law School seeks to “ensur[e] their ability to make unique contributions to the character of the Law School.” . . .
I-B. Petitioner Barbara Grutter is a white Michigan resident who applied to the Law School in 1996 with a 3.8 grade point average and 161 LSAT score. The Law School initially placed petitioner on a waiting list, but subsequently rejected her application. In December 1997, petitioner filed suit. . . . Petitioner alleged that respondents discriminated against her on the basis of race in violation of the 14th Amendment; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42 U. S. C. § 1981. . . .
During the 15-day bench trial, the parties introduced extensive evidence concerning the Law School’s use of race in the admissions process. Dennis Shields, Director of Admissions when petitioner applied to the Law School, testified that he did not direct his staff to admit a particular percentage or number of minority students, but rather to consider an applicant’s race along with all other factors. Shields testified that at the height of the admissions season, he would frequently consult the so-called “daily reports” that kept track of the racial and ethnic composition of the class (along with other information such as residency status and gender). This was done, Shields testified, to ensure that a critical mass of underrepresented minority students would be reached so as to realize the educational benefits of a diverse student body. Shields stressed, however, that he did not seek to admit any particular number or percentage of underrepresented minority students.
Erica Munzel, who succeeded Shields as Director of Admissions, testified that “‘critical mass'” means “‘meaningful numbers'” or “‘meaningful representation,'” which she understood to mean a number that encourages underrepresented minority students to participate in the classroom and not feel isolated. Munzel stated there is no number, percentage, or range of numbers or percentages that constitute critical mass. . . .
Kent Syverud . . . a professor at the Law School when the 1992 admissions policy was adopted . . . indicated that when a critical mass of underrepresented minority students is present, racial stereotypes lose their force because nonminority students learn there is no “‘minority viewpoint'” but rather a variety of viewpoints among minority students. . . .
Applying strict scrutiny, the District Court determined that the Law School’s asserted interest in assembling a diverse student body was not compelling because “the attainment of a racially diverse class . . . was not recognized as such by Bakke and is not a remedy for past discrimination.” The District Court went on to hold that even if diversity were compelling, the Law School had not narrowly tailored its use of race to further that interest. . . .
Sitting en banc, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s judgment and vacated the injunction. The Court of Appeals first held that Justice Powell’s opinion in Bakke was binding precedent establishing diversity as a compelling state interest. . . . The Court of Appeals also held that the Law School’s use of race was narrowly tailored because race was merely a “potential ‘plus’ factor. . . .”
II-A. . . . Since this Court’s splintered decision in Bakke, Justice Powell’s opinion announcing the judgment of the Court has served as the touchstone for constitutional analysis of race-conscious admissions policies. Public and private universities across the Nation have modeled their own admissions programs on Justice Powell’s views on permissible race-conscious policies. . . .
In Justice Powell’s view, when governmental decisions “touch upon an individual’s race or ethnic background, he is entitled to a judicial determination that the burden he is asked to bear on that basis is precisely tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest.” Under this exacting standard, only one of the interests asserted by the university survived Justice Powell’s scrutiny. . . .
“[T]he attainment of a diverse student body.” With the important proviso that “constitutional limitations protecting individual rights may not be disregarded,” Justice Powell grounded his analysis in the academic freedom that “long has been viewed as a special concern of the 1st Amendment.” Justice Powell emphasized that nothing less than the “‘nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure’ to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples.” In seeking the “right to select those students who will contribute the most to the ‘robust exchange of ideas,'” a university seeks “to achieve a goal that is of paramount importance in the fulfillment of its mission.” Both “tradition and experience lend support to the view that the contribution of diversity is substantial.”
Justice Powell was, however, careful to emphasize that in his view race “is only one element in a range of factors a university properly may consider in attaining the goal of a heterogeneous student body.” . . .
[F]or the reasons set out below, today we endorse Justice Powell’s view that student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.
II-B. The Equal Protection Clause provides that no State shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Because the 14th Amendment “protect[s] persons, not groups,” all “governmental action based on race — a group classification long recognized as in most circumstances irrelevant and therefore prohibited — should be subjected to detailed judicial inquiry to ensure that the personal right to equal protection of the laws has not been infringed.” Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña (1995). . . .
We have held that all racial classifications imposed by government “must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny.” This means that such classifications are constitutional only if they are narrowly tailored to further compelling governmental interests. “Absent searching judicial inquiry into the justification for such race-based measures,” we have no way to determine what “classifications are ‘benign’ or ‘remedial’ and what classifications are in fact motivated by illegitimate notions of racial inferiority or simple racial politics.” Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co. (1989). We apply strict scrutiny to all racial classifications to “‘smoke out’ illegitimate uses of race by assuring that [government] is pursuing a goal important enough to warrant use of a highly suspect tool.”
Strict scrutiny is not “strict in theory, but fatal in fact.” Adarand. Although all governmental uses of race are subject to strict scrutiny, not all are invalidated by it. . . . When race-based action is necessary to further a compelling governmental interest, such action does not violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection so long as the narrow-tailoring requirement is also satisfied.
Context matters when reviewing race-based governmental action under the Equal Protection Clause. . . . Not every decision influenced by race is equally objectionable, and strict scrutiny is designed to provide a framework for carefully examining the importance and the sincerity of the reasons advanced by the governmental decisionmaker for the use of race in that particular context.
III-A. With these principles in mind, we turn to the question whether the Law School’s use of race is justified by a compelling state interest. Before this Court, as they have throughout this litigation, respondents assert only one justification for their use of race in the admissions process: obtaining “the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.” In other words, the Law School asks us to recognize, in the context of higher education, a compelling state interest in student body diversity. . . .
The Law School’s educational judgment that such diversity is essential to its educational mission is one to which we defer. The Law School’s assessment that diversity will, in fact, yield educational benefits is substantiated by respondents and their amici. Our scrutiny of the interest asserted by the Law School is no less strict for taking into account complex educational judgments in an area that lies primarily within the expertise of the university. Our holding today is in keeping with our tradition of giving a degree of deference to a university’s academic decisions, within constitutionally prescribed limits. . . .
Our conclusion that the Law School has a compelling interest in a diverse student body is informed by our view that attaining a diverse student body is at the heart of the Law School’s proper institutional mission, and that “good faith” on the part of a university is “presumed” absent “a showing to the contrary.”
As part of its goal of “assembling a class that is both exceptionally academically qualified and broadly diverse,” the Law School seeks to “enroll a ‘critical mass’ of minority students.” . . . [T]he Law School’s concept of critical mass is defined by reference to the educational benefits that diversity is designed to produce.
These benefits are substantial. As the District Court emphasized, the Law School’s admissions policy promotes “cross-racial understanding,” helps to break down racial stereotypes, and “enables [students] to better understand persons of different races.” These benefits are “important and laudable,” because “classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting” when the students have “the greatest possible variety of backgrounds.”
The Law School’s claim of a compelling interest is further bolstered by its amici, who point to the educational benefits that flow from student body diversity. In addition to the expert studies and reports entered into evidence at trial, numerous studies show that student body diversity promotes learning outcomes, and “better prepares students for an increasingly diverse workforce and society, and better prepares them as professionals.”
These benefits are not theoretical but real, as major American businesses have made clear that the skills needed in today’s increasingly global marketplace can only be developed through exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints. What is more, high-ranking retired officers and civilian leaders of the United States military assert that, “[b]ased on [their] decades of experience,” a “highly qualified, racially diverse officer corps . . . is essential to the military’s ability to fulfill its principle mission to provide national security.” The primary sources for the Nation’s officer corps are the service academies and the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), the latter comprising students already admitted to participating colleges and universities. At present, “the military cannot achieve an officer corps that is both highly qualified and racially diverse unless the service academies and the ROTC used limited race-conscious recruiting and admissions policies.” To fulfill its mission, the military “must be selective in admissions for training and education for the officer corps, and it must train and educate a highly qualified, racially diverse officer corps in a racially diverse setting.” We agree that “[i]t requires only a small step from this analysis to conclude that our country’s other most selective institutions must remain both diverse and selective.” . . .
Moreover, universities, and in particular, law schools, represent the training ground for a large number of our Nation’s leaders. Individuals with law degrees occupy roughly half the state governorships, more than half the seats in the United States Senate, and more than a third of the seats in the United States House of Representatives. . . .
In order to cultivate a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry, it is necessary that the path to leadership be visibly open to talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity. All members of our heterogeneous society must have confidence in the openness and integrity of the educational institutions that provide this training. As we have recognized, law schools “cannot be effective in isolation from the individuals and institutions with which the law interacts.” Sweatt v. Painter (1950). Access to legal education (and thus the legal profession) must be inclusive of talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity, so that all members of our heterogeneous society may participate in the educational institutions that provide the training and education necessary to succeed in America.
The Law School does not premise its need for critical mass on “any belief that minority students always (or even consistently) express some characteristic minority viewpoint on any issue.” To the contrary, diminishing the force of such stereotypes is both a crucial part of the Law School’s mission, and one that it cannot accomplish with only token numbers of minority students. Just as growing up in a particular region or having particular professional experiences is likely to affect an individual’s views, so too is one’s own, unique experience of being a racial minority in a society, like our own, in which race unfortunately still matters. The Law School has determined, based on its experience and expertise, that a “critical mass” of underrepresented minorities is necessary to further its compelling interest in securing the educational benefits of a diverse student body.
III-B. Even in the limited circumstance when drawing racial distinctions is permissible to further a compelling state interest, government is still “constrained in how it may pursue that end: [T]he means chosen to accomplish the [government’s] asserted purpose must be specifically and narrowly framed to accomplish that purpose.” Shaw v. Reno (1996). The purpose of the narrow tailoring requirement is to ensure that “the means chosen ‘fit’ th[e] compelling goal so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate racial prejudice or stereotype.” Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (1989).
Since Bakke, we have had no occasion to define the contours of the narrow-tailoring inquiry with respect to race-conscious university admissions programs. That inquiry must be calibrated to fit the distinct issues raised by the use of race to achieve student body diversity in public higher education. Contrary to Justice Kennedy’s assertions, we do not “abandon[ ] strict scrutiny.” Rather, as we have already explained, we adhere to Adarand’s teaching that the very purpose of strict scrutiny is to take such “relevant differences into account.”
To be narrowly tailored, a race-conscious admissions program cannot use a quota system — it cannot “insulat[e] each category of applicants with certain desired qualifications from competition with all other applicants.” Bakke (opinion of Powell, J.). Instead, a university may consider race or ethnicity only as a “‘plus’ in a particular applicant’s file,” without “insulat[ing] the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats.” In other words, an admissions program must be “flexible enough to consider all pertinent elements of diversity in light of the particular qualifications of each applicant, and to place them on the same footing for consideration, although not necessarily according them the same weight.”
We find that the Law School’s admissions program bears the hallmarks of a narrowly tailored plan. As Justice Powell made clear in Bakke, truly individualized consideration demands that race be used in a flexible, nonmechanical way. It follows from this mandate that universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial groups or put members of those groups on separate admissions tracks. Nor can universities insulate applicants who belong to certain racial or ethnic groups from the competition for admission. Universities can, however, consider race or ethnicity more flexibly as a “plus” factor in the context of individualized consideration of each and every applicant.
We are satisfied that the Law School’s admissions program, like the Harvard plan described by Justice Powell, does not operate as a quota. . . .
The Law School’s goal of attaining a critical mass of underrepresented minority students does not transform its program into a quota. As the Harvard plan described by Justice Powell recognized, there is of course “some relationship between numbers and achieving the benefits to be derived from a diverse student body, and between numbers and providing a reasonable environment for those students admitted.” Bakke. “[S]ome attention to numbers,” without more, does not transform a flexible admissions system into a rigid quota. . . . Moreover . . . between 1993 and 1998, the number of African-American, Latino, and Native-American students in each class at the Law School varied from 13.5 to 20.1 percent, a range inconsistent with a quota. . . .
That a race-conscious admissions program does not operate as a quota does not, by itself, satisfy the requirement of individualized consideration. When using race as a “plus” factor in university admissions, a university’s admissions program must remain flexible enough to ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that makes an applicant’s race or ethnicity the defining feature of his or her application. The importance of this individualized consideration in the context of a race-conscious admissions program is paramount.
Here, the Law School engages in a highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant’s file, giving serious consideration to all the ways an applicant might contribute to a diverse educational environment. The Law School affords this individualized consideration to applicants of all races. There is no policy, either de jure or de facto, of automatic acceptance or rejection based on any single “soft” variable. Unlike the program at issue in Gratz v. Bollinger (2003), the Law School awards no mechanical, predetermined diversity “bonuses” based on race or ethnicity. Like the Harvard plan, the Law School’s admissions policy “is flexible enough to consider all pertinent elements of diversity in light of the particular qualifications of each applicant, and to place them on the same footing for consideration, although not necessarily according them the same weight.” Bakke (opinion of Powell, J.). . . .
What is more, the Law School actually gives substantial weight to diversity factors besides race. The Law School frequently accepts nonminority applicants with grades and test scores lower than underrepresented minority applicants (and other nonminority applicants) who are rejected. This shows that the Law School seriously weighs many other diversity factors besides race that can make a real and dispositive difference for nonminority applicants as well. By this flexible approach, the Law School sufficiently takes into account, in practice as well as in theory, a wide variety of characteristics besides race and ethnicity that contribute to a diverse student body. Justice Kennedy speculates that “race is likely outcome determinative for many members of minority groups” who do not fall within the upper range of LSAT scores and grades. But the same could be said of the Harvard plan discussed approvingly by Justice Powell in Bakke, and indeed of any plan that uses race as one of many factors. . . .
Petitioner and the United States argue that the Law School’s plan is not narrowly tailored because race-neutral means exist to obtain the educational benefits of student body diversity that the Law School seeks. We disagree. Narrow tailoring does not require exhaustion of every conceivable race-neutral alternative. Nor does it require a university to choose between maintaining a reputation for excellence or fulfilling a commitment to provide educational opportunities to members of all racial groups. Narrow tailoring does, however, require serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives that will achieve the diversity the university seeks. . . .
We agree with the Court of Appeals that the Law School sufficiently considered workable race-neutral alternatives. The District Court took the Law School to task for failing to consider race-neutral alternatives such as “using a lottery system” or “decreasing the emphasis for all applicants on undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores.” But these alternatives would require a dramatic sacrifice of diversity, the academic quality of all admitted students, or both.
The Law School’s current admissions program considers race as one factor among many, in an effort to assemble a student body that is diverse in ways broader than race. Because a lottery would make that kind of nuanced judgment impossible, it would effectively sacrifice all other educational values, not to mention every other kind of diversity. So too with the suggestion that the Law School simply lower admissions standards for all students, a drastic remedy that would require the Law School to become a much different institution and sacrifice a vital component of its educational mission. The United States advocates “percentage plans,” recently adopted by public undergraduate institutions in Texas, Florida, and California to guarantee admission to all students above a certain class-rank threshold in every high school in the State. The United States does not, however, explain how such plans could work for graduate and professional schools. More-over, even assuming such plans are race-neutral, they may preclude the university from conducting the individualized assessments necessary to assemble a student body that is not just racially diverse, but diverse along all the qualities valued by the university. We are satisfied that the Law School adequately considered race-neutral alternatives currently capable of producing a critical mass without forcing the Law School to abandon the academic selectivity that is the cornerstone of its educational mission.
We acknowledge that “there are serious problems of Justice connected with the idea of preference itself.” Bakke. . . .
We are mindful, however, that “[a] core purpose of the 14th Amendment was to do away with all governmentally imposed discrimination based on race.” Palmore v. Sidoti (1984). Accordingly, race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time. This requirement reflects that racial classifications, however compelling their goals, are potentially so dangerous that they may be employed no more broadly than the interest demands. Enshrining a permanent justification for racial preferences would offend this fundamental equal protection principle. We see no reason to exempt race-conscious admissions programs from the requirement that all governmental use of race must have a logical end point. The Law School, too, concedes that all “race-conscious programs must have reasonable durational limits.” . . .
We take the Law School at its word that it would “like nothing better than to find a race-neutral admissions formula” and will terminate its race-conscious admissions program as soon as practicable. It has been 25 years since Justice Powell first approved the use of race to further an interest in student body diversity in the context of public higher education. Since that time, the number of minority applicants with high grades and test scores has indeed increased. We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today. . . .
Justice Ginsburg, with whom Justice Breyer joins, concurring.
The Court’s observation that race-conscious programs “must have a logical end point” accords with the international understanding of the office of affirmative action. The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, ratified by the United States in 1994 endorses “special and concrete measures to ensure the adequate development and protection of certain racial groups or individuals belonging to them, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” But such measures, the Convention instructs, “shall in no case entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate rights for different racial groups after the objectives for which they were taken have been achieved.” . . .
Chief Justice Rehnquist, with whom Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Thomas join, dissenting. . . .
Before the Court’s decision today, we consistently applied the same strict scrutiny analysis regardless of the government’s purported reason for using race and regardless of the setting in which race was being used. We rejected calls to use more lenient review in the face of claims that race was being used in “good faith” because “‘[m]ore than good motives should be required when government seeks to allocate its resources by way of an explicit racial classification system.'” Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña (1995). . . .
Although the Court recites the language of our strict scrutiny analysis, its application of that review is unprecedented in its deference. . . .
In practice, the Law School’s program bears little or no relation to its asserted goal of achieving “critical mass.” Respondents explain that the Law School seeks to accumulate a “critical mass” of each underrepresented minority group. But the record demonstrates that the Law School’s admissions practices with respect to these groups differ dramatically and cannot be defended under any consistent use of the term “critical mass.”
From 1995 through 2000, the Law School admitted between 1,130 and 1,310 students. Of those, between 13 and 19 were Native American, between 91 and 108 were African-Americans, and between 47 and 56 were Hispanic. If the Law School is admitting between 91 and 108 African-Americans in order to achieve “critical mass,” thereby preventing African-American students from feeling “isolated or like spokespersons for their race,” one would think that a number of the same order of magnitude would be necessary to accomplish the same purpose for Hispanics and Native Americans. Similarly, even if all of the Native American applicants admitted in a given year matriculate, which the record demonstrates is not at all the case, how can this possibly constitute a “critical mass” of Native Americans in a class of over 350 students? In order for this pattern of admission to be consistent with the Law School’s explanation of “critical mass,” one would have to believe that the objectives of “critical mass” offered by respondents are achieved with only half the number of Hispanics and one-sixth the number of Native Americans as compared to African-Americans. But respondents offer no race-specific reasons for such disparities. Instead, they simply emphasize the importance of achieving “critical mass,” without any explanation of why that concept is applied differently among the three underrepresented minority groups. . . .
[I conclude] that the Law School has managed its admissions program, not to achieve a “critical mass,” but to extend offers of admission to members of selected minority groups in proportion to their statistical representation in the applicant pool. But this is precisely the type of racial balancing that the Court itself calls “patently unconstitutional.” . . .
The Court suggests a possible 25-year limitation on the Law School’s current program. Respondents, on the other hand, remain more ambiguous, explaining that “the Law School of course recognizes that race-conscious programs must have reasonable durational limits, and the Sixth Circuit properly found such a limit in the Law School’s resolve to cease considering race when genuine race-neutral alternatives become available.” These discussions of a time limit are the vaguest of assurances. In truth, they permit the Law School’s use of racial preferences on a seemingly permanent basis. Thus, an important component of strict scrutiny — that a program be limited in time — is casually subverted. . . .
Justice Kennedy, dissenting. [Omitted.]
Justice Scalia, with whom Justice Thomas joins, concurring in part and dissenting in part.[Omitted.]
Justice Thomas, with whom Justice Scalia joins as to Parts I–VII, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
Frederick Douglass, speaking to a group of abolitionists almost 140 years ago, delivered a message lost on today’s majority:
What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us. . . . I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! . . . And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! . . . [Y]our interference is doing him positive injury. . . .
Like Douglass, I believe blacks can achieve in every avenue of American life without the meddling of university administrators. Because I wish to see all students succeed whatever their color, I share, in some respect, the sympathies of those who sponsor the type of discrimination advanced by the University of Michigan Law School (Law School). The Constitution does not, however, tolerate institutional devotion to the status quo in admissions policies when such devotion ripens into racial discrimination. Nor does the Constitution countenance the unprecedented deference the Court gives to the Law School, an approach inconsistent with the very concept of “strict scrutiny.” . . .
The majority upholds the Law School’s racial discrimination not by interpreting the people’s Constitution, but by responding to a faddish slogan of the cognoscenti. Nevertheless, I concur in part in the Court’s opinion. First, I agree with the Court insofar as its decision, which approves of only one racial classification, confirms that further use of race in admissions remains unlawful. Second, I agree with the Court’s holding that racial discrimination in higher education admissions will be illegal in 25 years. I respectfully dissent from the remainder of the Court’s opinion and the judgment, however, because I believe that the Law School’s current use of race violates the Equal Protection Clause and that the Constitution means the same thing today as it will in 300 months. . . .
- Unlike the majority, I seek to define with precision the interest being asserted by the Law School before determining whether that interest is so compelling as to justify racial discrimination. The Law School maintains that it wishes to obtain “educational benefits that flow from student body diversity.” This statement must be evaluated carefully, because it implies that both “diversity” and “educational benefits” are components of the Law School’s compelling state interest. Additionally, the Law School’s refusal to entertain certain changes in its admissions process and status indicates that the compelling state interest it seeks to validate is actually broader than might appear at first glance.
Undoubtedly there are other ways to “better” the education of law students aside from ensuring that the student body contains a “critical mass” of underrepresented minority students. Attaining “diversity,” whatever it means, is the mechanism by which the Law School obtains educational benefits, not an end of itself. The Law School, however, apparently believes that only a racially mixed student body can lead to the educational benefits it seeks. How, then, is the Law School’s interest in these allegedly unique educational “benefits” not simply the forbidden interest in “racial balancing,” that the majority expressly rejects?
A distinction between these two ideas (unique educational benefits based on racial aesthetics and race for its own sake) is purely sophistic. . . . The Law School’s argument, as facile as it is, can only be understood in one way: Classroom aesthetics yields educational benefits, racially discriminatory admissions policies are required to achieve the right racial mix, and therefore the policies are required to achieve the educational benefits. It is the educational benefits that are the end, or allegedly compelling state interest, not “diversity.” . . .
The proffered interest that the majority vindicates today, then, is not simply “diversity.” Instead the Court upholds the use of racial discrimination as a tool to advance the Law School’s interest in offering a marginally superior education while maintaining an elite institution. Unless each constituent part of this state interest is of pressing public necessity, the Law School’s use of race is unconstitutional. I find each of them to fall far short of this standard. . . .
III-B. Under the proper standard, there is no pressing public necessity in maintaining a public law school at all and, it follows, certainly not an elite law school. Likewise, marginal improvements in legal education do not qualify as a compelling state interest.
While legal education at a public university may be good policy or otherwise laudable, it is obviously not a pressing public necessity when the correct legal standard is applied. Additionally, circumstantial evidence as to whether a state activity is of pressing public necessity can be obtained by asking whether all States feel compelled to engage in that activity. Evidence that States, in general, engage in a certain activity by no means demonstrates that the activity constitutes a pressing public necessity, given the expansive role of government in today’s society. The fact that some fraction of the States reject a particular enterprise, however, creates a presumption that the enterprise itself is not a compelling state interest. In this sense, the absence of a public, American Bar Association (ABA) accredited, law school in Alaska, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, provides further evidence that Michigan’s maintenance of the Law School does not constitute a compelling state interest.
As the foregoing makes clear, Michigan has no compelling interest in having a law school at all, much less an elite one. Still, even assuming that a State may, under appropriate circumstances, demonstrate a cognizable interest in having an elite law school, Michigan has failed to do so here.
This Court has limited the scope of equal protection review to interests and activities that occur within that State’s jurisdiction. . . . The Equal Protection Clause . . . does not permit States to justify racial discrimination on the basis of what the rest of the Nation “may do or fail to do.” The only interests that can satisfy the Equal Protection Clause’s demands are those found within a State’s jurisdiction.
The only cognizable state interests vindicated by operating a public law school are, therefore, the education of that State’s citizens and the training of that State’s lawyers. . . .
The Law School today, however, does precious little training of those attorneys who will serve the citizens of Michigan. In 2002, graduates of the University of Michigan Law School made up less than 6% of applicants to the Michigan bar, even though the Law School’s graduates constitute nearly 30% of all law students graduating in Michigan. Less than 16% of the Law School’s graduating class elects to stay in Michigan after law school. Thus, while a mere 27% of the Law School’s 2002 entering class are from Michigan, only half of these, it appears, will stay in Michigan.
In sum, the Law School trains few Michigan residents and overwhelmingly serves students, who, as lawyers, leave the State of Michigan. By contrast, Michigan’s other public law school, Wayne State University Law School, sends 88% of its graduates on to serve the people of Michigan. . . .
- . . . With the adoption of different admissions methods, such as accepting all students who meet minimum qualifications, the Law School could achieve its vision of the racially aesthetic student body without the use of racial discrimination. The Law School concedes this, but the Court holds, implicitly and under the guise of narrow tailoring, that the Law School has a compelling state interest in doing what it wants to do. I cannot agree. First, under strict scrutiny, the Law School’s assessment of the benefits of racial discrimination and devotion to the admissions status quo are not entitled to any sort of deference, grounded in the 1st Amendment or anywhere else. Second, even if its “academic selectivity” must be maintained at all costs along with racial discrimination, the Court ignores the fact that other top law schools have succeeded in meeting their aesthetic demands without racial discrimination. . . .
IV-B. The Court’s deference to the Law School’s conclusion that its racial experimentation leads to educational benefits will, if adhered to, have serious collateral consequences. The Court relies heavily on social science evidence to justify its deference. The Court never acknowledges, however, the growing evidence that racial (and other sorts) of heterogeneity actually impairs learning among black students. [Studies omitted.] . . .
- The absence of any articulated legal principle supporting the majority’s principal holding suggests another rationale. I believe what lies beneath the Court’s decision today are the benighted notions that one can tell when racial discrimination benefits (rather than hurts) minority groups, and that racial discrimination is necessary to remedy general societal ills. This Court’s precedents supposedly settled both issues, but clearly the majority still cannot commit to the principle that racial classifications are per se harmful and that almost no amount of benefit in the eye of the beholder can justify such classifications. . . .
The Law School tantalizes unprepared students with the promise of a University of Michigan degree and all of the opportunities that it offers. These overmatched students take the bait, only to find that they cannot succeed in the cauldron of competition. . . . Indeed, to cover the tracks of the aestheticists, this cruel farce of racial discrimination must continue — in selection for the Michigan Law Review, and in hiring at law firms and for judicial clerkships — until the “beneficiaries” are no longer tolerated. While these students may graduate with law degrees, there is no evidence that they have received a qualitatively better legal education (or become better lawyers) than if they had gone to a less “elite” law school for which they were better prepared. And the aestheticists will never address the real problems facing “underrepresented minorities,” instead continuing their social experiments on other people’s children. . . .
It is uncontested that each year, the Law School admits a handful of blacks who would be admitted in the absence of racial discrimination. Who can differentiate between those who belong and those who do not? The majority of blacks are admitted to the Law School because of discrimination, and because of this policy all are tarred as undeserving. This problem of stigma does not depend on determinacy as to whether those stigmatized are actually the “beneficiaries” of racial discrimination. When blacks take positions in the highest places of government, industry, or academia, it is an open question today whether their skin color played a part in their advancement. . . .
Finally, the Court’s disturbing reference to the importance of the country’s law schools as training grounds meant to cultivate “a set of leaders with legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry,” through the use of racial discrimination deserves discussion. As noted earlier, the Court has soundly rejected the remedying of societal discrimination as a justification for governmental use of race. For those who believe that every racial disproportionality in our society is caused by some kind of racial discrimination, there can be no distinction between remedying societal discrimination and erasing racial disproportionalities in the country’s leadership caste. And if the lack of proportional racial representation among our leaders is not caused by societal discrimination, then “fixing” it is even less of a pressing public necessity. . . .
VII-B. . . . For the immediate future, however, the majority has placed its imprimatur on a practice that can only weaken the principle of equality embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Equal Protection Clause. “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting). It has been nearly 140 years since Frederick Douglass asked the intellectual ancestors of the Law School to “[d]o nothing with us!” and the Nation adopted the 14th Amendment. Now we must wait another 25 years to see this principle of equality vindicated. I therefore respectfully dissent from the remainder of the Court’s opinion and the judgment.
Questions for Consideration
At the end of her opinion for the Court, Justice O’Connor writes: “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.” Some of the other Justices interpret that sentence in various ways. Which interpretation is most faithful to O’Connor’s statement?
- Chief Justice Rehnquist in his dissent (joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) writes: “The Court suggests a possible 25-year limitation on the Law School’s current program. . . . These discussions of a time limit are the vaguest of assurances. In truth, they permit the Law School’s use of racial preferences on a seemingly permanent basis.”
- Justice Thomas in his dissent (joined by Justice Scalia) writes: “I agree with the Court’s holding that racial discrimination in higher education admissions will be illegal in 25 years.”
- Justice Ginsberg in her concurrence (joined by Justice Breyer) writes: “one may hope, but not firmly forecast, that over the next generation’s span, progress toward nondiscrimination and genuinely equal opportunity will make it safe to sunset affirmative action.”