University of Michigan Admissions Lawsuits Collection

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University of Michigan admissions lawsuits collection

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger University of Michigan admissions lawsuits collection held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the collection's online finding aid.

Researchers may also be interested in the Admissions Lawsuits (University of Michigan) Web Archives.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Two lawsuits filed in 1997 (Gratz, et al. v. Bollinger; and Grutter, et al. v. Bollinger) made the University of Michigan a focal point in the national debate over the value and legality of affirmative action in higher education. The lawsuits brought by non-minority applicants challenged the legality of the university's admissions process. Documentation includes briefs, judicial orders and opinions, expert reports, trial transcripts and exhibits, and amicus briefs from companies and organizations supporting the university's position in both the Gratz and Grutter case. Also included are snapshot of the university's admissions lawsuits website and clippings and media files.

Two lawsuits filed in 1997 alleging that the University of Michigan's admissions practices discriminated against non-minority applicants made the university a focal point in the contentious national debate over the value and legality of affirmative action in higher education. In response to the filings in U.S. District Court, University President Lee Bollinger declared that in challenging the university's consideration of race as a positive factor in admissions, the lawsuits attacked a policy "deeply rooted in the history, traditions and the identity of the University," and a common practice among the nation's leading institutions of higher education. While President Bollinger and other members of the university community conducted a highly visible national media campaign to explain and elicit support for the university's admissions policies and the values upon which they were based, the lawsuits also stimulated intense discussion on the University of Michigan campus over issues of diversity, fairness, and equal opportunity.

On October 13, 1997, Jennifer Gratz, an unsuccessful white applicant for the Fall 1995 term, and Patrick Hamacher, an unsuccessful white applicant for the Fall 1997 term, brought a lawsuit in district court against the College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LS&A). On December 3, 1997, Barbara Grutter, an unsuccessful white applicant for the Fall 1997 entering class, brought a similar suit against the Law School. The plaintiffs sued both the university and specific university officials, including President Lee Bollinger, President Emeritus James Duderstadt, and Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman, in their individual and official capacities. Both cases were certified as class actions for purposes of reviewing the policies at issue.

The Center for Individual Rights (CIR), a nonprofit public interest law firm located in Washington, D.C., represented the plaintiffs, with the Minneapolis law firm of Maslon, Edelman, Borman, & Brand serving as lead counsel. The CIR had been active in conducting lawsuits seeking to dismantle affirmative action in college admissions and racial preference in a variety of arenas, including a successful case against the University of Texas Law School (Hopwood v. State of Texas). The university's lead counsel for the suits was John Payton, a civil rights attorney of the Washington D.C. law firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, with local counsel provided by Butzel Long of Detroit.

The plaintiffs in the cases charged that the university unlawfully discriminated against them by taking race and ethnicity into account as a positive factor in admissions. They sought injunctive relief and monetary damages. The university took the position that the Constitution and civil rights statutes, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in its 1978 decision in the case of University of California v. Bakke, permitted it to consider race and ethnicity in its admissions in order to achieve the educational benefits of a diverse student body. (The Bakke decision stated that there must be a "compelling governmental interest" to justify the use of race in admissions. The university asserted that diversity was just such an interest.)

In both lawsuits, groups of students and citizens petitioned to intervene in support of the university's admissions policy. Although their intervention was initially denied by the district courts, in August 1999 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit allowed the intervention and made the student and citizen groups full parties in the case. The intervenors defended the university's policy on the basis that it was needed to remedy past and/or present discrimination against people of color. In the LS&A case, the intervenors included 17 African-American and Latino students who applied or planned to apply to the university and the group Citizens for Affirmative Action Preservation. In the Law School case, the intervenors included 41 students and three groups: United for Equality and Affirmative Action, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary, and Law Students for Affirmative Action.

Many organizations and entities filed "friend of the Court" (amicus) briefs in the Court of Appeals for both sides of the case. Organizations filing briefs in support of the university's position included General Motors Corporation, the American Bar Association, the American Council on Education, the National Organization for Women (NOW) Legal Defense Fund, the Attorney General of Michigan, and a group of Fortune 500 companies including Microsoft, Intel, Pfizer, and others. Organizations filing amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs included the National Association of Scholars.

On December 13, 2000, Judge Patrick Duggan ruled without a trial and granted summary judgment in the university's favor in the Gratz case. Finding that the pursuit of the educational benefits of diversity is a compelling governmental interest, he ruled that the university's current admissions policy, in place since 1999, was fully constitutional, but that its admissions policy from 1995 to 1998 was unconstitutional. In a separate opinion, Duggan rejected the intervenors' alternative argument defending the policy. CIR has petitioned to appeal the judgment about the current admissions process and the university has petitioned to cross-appeal the ruling on the unconstitutionality of the admissions process for the years 1995 to 1998.

From January 16 through February 16, 2001, a limited trial on the specifics of the Law School admissions process was held. On March 27, 2001, Judge Bernard Friedman issued a decision for Grutter finding that the educational benefits of diversity were not a compelling interest, and that the specifics of the Law School's policy were not "narrowly tailored" to that interest. He also struck down the intervenors' defense, saying that it was essentially based on remedying societal discrimination and impermissible. He issued an order that the Law School cease considering race in its admissions process. The university immediately appealed the ruling and filed a motion for a stay of injunction. On April 5, 2001, the Court of Appeals issued a stay of the District Court order, allowing the Law School to continue using its current admissions policy while the appeal proceeds.

In October 2001, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the plaintiffs' motion for hearing oral arguments en banc. The hearings were scheduled for December 2001. In May 2002 the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held in the Grutter case that the Law School's admissions policy is constitutional, reversing the March 27, 2001 decision of Judge Friedman. From August 2002 to October 2002 petitions for certiorari, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to view the Grutter and Gratz case were filed. In December 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari before judgment on the Constitutional issue only in Gratz and granted certiorari in the Grutter case. Oral arguments were heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in Gratz and Grutter on April 1, 2003. A decision from the U.S. Supreme Court was delivered on June 23, 2003. In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court justices upheld the University of Michigan Law School admissions policy (Grutter v. Bollinger, et. al) and in a 6-3 vote struck down the university's undergraduate admissions policy (Gratz and Hamacher v. Bollinger, et. al). On July 18, 2003, the plaintiff in Grutter v. Bollinger et al. filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting to rehear the case. The petition for rehearing of Grutter was denied on August 25, 2003.

Following the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Gratz, the case was returned to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for further proceedings. In August 2003, the University Michigan Office of Undergraduate Admissions announced a new process for reviewing student applications that included more individualized review. This process was in place for those students applying for admissions for the Fall 2004 term.

On January 31, 2007, in an agreement reached between the parties and approved by the District Court, the plaintiffs in the case agreed to forego damages, and drop all claims in the lawsuit in return for $10,000 each to cover costs. Although the defendants agreed to payment for costs, there was no finding that the university's pre-2003 admissions policy caused injury to the plaintiffs.

Please note:

Copyright has been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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