As crowds of students and activists gathered outside of the Supreme Court today, justices heard arguments in a case challenging the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy. The Court is hearing two related cases in which white student applicants charged they were unconstitutionally denied admission because of their race: Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger. The affirmative action policy has drawn wide support from a range of groups, including high-ranking military officials, Fortune 500 companies, and the civil and women’s rights community. More than 100 amicus briefs have been filed in the case, including a brief from the Bush administration siding with the students.
The students were represented by attorneys from the conservative advocacy group Center for Individual Rights, which claims that Michigan’s policy of using race as a factor in admissions violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination by federally funded institutions, and/or the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants all citizens equal treatment under the law. The University of Michigan contends that its policy supports the creation of a diverse student body, which benefits all students, according to the Associated Press.
The Supreme Court’s last ruling regarding affirmative action, the 5-4 Bakke decision in 1978, upheld the use of race as a “plus factor” in admission but outlawed the use of “racial quotas.” President Bush has consistently referred to Michigan’s policy as “a quota system,” mischaracterizing Michigan’s more individualized policy that takes many factors into account, according to civil rights activist and lawyer Lani Guinier, writing in The Nation. “The strategy of the Administration is to ‘quotify’ any aspect of the admissions process that dares notice the race of applicants,” Guinier says in The Nation. Two reports released last month found that alternatives to affirmative action, including the “race-neutral” policies supported by the Bush administration, are ineffective at promoting racial diversity.
Civil rights groups participated in a rally this morning at the Supreme Court, followed by a march to the Lincoln Memorial. Last night, students and community members at Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, DC, organized a rally that featured poets, scholars, activists, and policymakers speaking out for affirmative action.