Law & Courts

Appeals Court Allows Use of Race In Michigan Law School Admissions

By Sean Cavanagh — May 22, 2002 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In a case that could reverberate on college campuses nationwide—and possibly in K-12 classrooms—a sharply divided federal appeals court has backed the University of Michigan law school’s right to use race as a factor in its admissions policy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled 5-4 on May 14 that the law school had a “compelling interest” in seeking a diverse student enrollment and that its admissions process did not amount to racial quotas.

In its decision, the court applied the controlling opinion of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. in the landmark 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case of Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which upheld the consideration of race as one factor among several in admissions decisions.

The 6th Circuit court’s decision, which reversed a ruling by a federal judge in Detroit, added yet another constitutional wrinkle to a series of contradictory court decisions in recent years. Some federal courts have prohibited universities from considering race, in admissions; others have upheld those policies.

Last week’s ruling prompted many college-admissions officials and legal experts to predict that the Supreme Court soon would weigh in on the issue. The high court has declined to hear such cases in recent years.

“It is obviously an issue of great national importance, " said Kirk Kolbo, a Minneapolis lawyer for the Michigan plaintiffs. He said they plan to appeal to the high court.

The 6th Circuit court has not yet ruled on a separate, pending case that centers on the University of Michigan’s alleged use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions.

K-12 Impact?

Aside from their potential impact on colleges and universities, both Michigan cases could have implications for K-12 education. Several districts trying to maintain racial balance in magnet programs and other initiatives eventually could be forced to comply with the court rulings.

“If I were advising a school district in the 6th Circuit, I would certainly advise them to heed” the decision, said John R. Munich, a St. Louis lawyer who has worked on several cases involving racial preferences.

The Michigan case was initiated by Barbara Grutter, who applied to the law school, was rejected, and claimed the school’s use of race in admissions was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the law. Ms. Grutter is white.

Judge Danny J. Boggs, in a dissenting opinion, called Michigan’s policy discriminatory and said that its impact was much broader than administrators let on.

“Even a cursory glance at ... admissions data reveals the staggering magnitude ... of racial preference,” Judge Boggs wrote.

A version of this article appeared in the May 22, 2002 edition of Education Week as Appeals Court Allows Use of Race In Michigan Law School Admissions


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Centering the Whole Child in School Improvement Planning and Redesign
Learn how leading with equity and empathy yield improved sense of belonging, attendance, and promotion rate to 10th grade.

Content provided by Panorama
Teaching Profession Webinar Examining the Evidence: Supports to Promote Teacher Well-Being
Rates of work dissatisfaction are on the rise among teachers. Grappling with an increased workload due to the pandemic and additional stressors have exacerbated feelings of burnout and demoralization. Given these challenges, what can the

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Arizona Sues Biden to Keep School Anti-Mask Rules
At issue are two state programs the Republican governor created last summer that use federal COVID-19 relief money.
4 min read
FILE — Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey gives his state of the state address at the Arizona Capitol, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, in Phoenix. Ducey sued the Biden administration, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, over its demand that the state stop sending millions in federal COVID-19 relief money to schools that don't have mask requirements or that close due to COVID-19 outbreaks. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Major Cases on Affirmative Action in Education
The outcome could affect K-12 policies when the justices rule on race-based policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.
3 min read
A man talks on his phone on the steps of Harvard University's Widener Library, in Cambridge, Mass. on June 26, 2020.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up major cases on affirmative action in admissions at Harvard University, above, and at the University of North Carolina.
Elise Amendola/AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court to Hear Case of Coach Who Prayed After Games in Defiance of School District
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether school districts may prohibit private religious expression by public school employees.
4 min read
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy is in a conflict with the Bremerton, 
Wash., school district over his silent prayer after games.
Former Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joseph A. Kennedy stands at on the 50-yard line at Bremerton Memorial Stadium. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal over his dismissal for praying after football games.
Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun via AP
Law & Courts Supreme Court Blocks Biden Vaccine Mandate Applying to Schools in Much of the Country
The justices ruled 6-3 to stay an Occupational Health and Safety Administration rule that covered schools in 26 states and two territories.
4 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo last April.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal vaccine mandate for large employers, including school districts in about half the states.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP