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Promoting diversity? It’s Constitutional! (Grutter v. Bollinger)

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Grutter v. Bollinger

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Barbara Grutter was a successful business owner with excellent academic credentials. In 1997, Grutter applied to the University of Michigan Law School. Grutter was ultimately rejected from the program. Grutter, who was white, argued that the denial amounted to racial discrimination, because the school’s policy of considering applicants’ race for the purpose of promoting diversity gave nonwhite applicants an unfair advantage.

Grutter filed suit, and the case of Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), was ultimately taken up by the United States Supreme Court.

The issue was whether a public school’s consideration of race as a factor for admissions decisions violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Applying strict scrutiny, a narrow majority upheld the school’s admissions policy as narrowly tailored to the school’s compelling interest in achieving diversity.

Previous cases made clear that strict quota systems requiring that a set number of slots in a program be filled by minority students were unconstitutional. With this case, however, the Court clarified that public schools may consider an applicant’s race as one factor among many in making an admission decision without running afoul of the Constitution.

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