Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, and Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244

Brief Filed: 2/18/03
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 2003

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 216KB)

Issue: Does the University of Michigan's consideration of race in student admissions violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, or 42 U.S.C. 1981



Index Topic

Affirmative Action


These cases raise the issue of whether the U.S. Constitution permits the consideration of race and ethnicity in undergraduate and law school student admissions. Both the Law School and undergraduate liberal arts college at the University of Michigan consider race as a "plus factor" in admissions. In 1997, two separate class action lawsuits were filed against the University of Michigan concerning the admissions process for the undergraduate College of Literature, Arts, and Science (Gratz) and the Law School (Grutter) by the Center for Individual Rights. Two different district court judges heard the cases. The judge in the undergraduate case (Gratz) on summary judgment motion found that diversity is a compelling governmental interest and the undergraduate admissions process met the standards for constitutionality set by the Supreme Court in 1978 in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. He also found that the admissions programs from 1995-1998 were unconstitutional due to the reserving of seats for minorities, which functioned as an impermissible quota. Both plaintiff and defendants appealed to the Sixth Circuit. The judge in the law school case (Grutter) on motion for summary judgment held a limited trial on the specifics of the law school's admissions process. He then found that the law does not permit colleges and universities to use race in admissions — and even if it did, the law school's process weighed race too heavily. This case was also appealed to the Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit after oral arguments en banc held in the law school case that the admissions policy was constitutional. Following the test set forth in Bakke, it held that the law school had a compelling interest in achieving educational benefits stemming from a diverse student body and that the policy was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Psychologist Dr. Patricia Gurin (among other experts) presented her research concerning such educational benefits. The court found that each applicant is considered as an individual by the law school and that the law school's pursuit of a "critical mass" of minority students ensures that all students enjoy such educational benefits. The Sixth Circuit has not yet issued an opinion in the undergraduate admissions case. Plaintiff through the Center for Individual Rights filed a petition for certiorari requesting Supreme Court review of the Sixth Circuit's decision in the law school case. The plaintiffs and intervenors in the undergraduate case also filed petitions for certiorari before judgment in the undergraduate case. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in the law school case and certiorari before judgment solely on the constitutional issue in the undergraduate case.

APA's Position

APA filed an amicus curiae brief in the cases consistent with the Association policies contained in its Resolution on Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity and other APA policies on ethnic minority retention. APA's brief puts forward three sets of research findings in support of the University of Michigan's position. These findings are: 1) research shows that racial and ethnic discrimination and prejudice persist in American society; 2) research also shows that many people who believe themselves to be free of prejudice actually harbor attitudes that can lead to subtle discriminatory behaviors; and 3) research shows that such underlying prejudice and stereotyping may be ameliorated through contact between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Furthermore, the brief refutes criticisms of the Gurin Report (research that the court relied on in upholding the university's admissions policies). Additionally, APA's brief argues that diversity in high education leads to cultural competence, which is critical to the psychology profession and to society at large.


The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of race-aware admissions policies at public colleges and universities to obtain "educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body." In the law school case, Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court upheld Michigan's policy 5-4, arguing that there was compelling interest for a diverse student body and that efforts to maintain a significant number of minority students did not constitute an illegal quota. However, in a 6-3 decision, the justices ruled against Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy in the Gratz v. Bollinger case, claiming that it gives an overall advantage to minority students. The court did not reject the use of racial preferences to encourage diversity. Rather, it insisted that students be evaluated as individuals with race being only one of the many factors considered.