High Court to examine college use of affirmative action

Dan Haugen

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear arguments in two controversial college admissions lawsuits next year.

The complaints focus on the use of affirmative action in undergraduate and law school admissions at the University of Michigan.

Both cases have been snaking their way through the legal system since 1997, when lawyers for three rejected applicants filed complaints with a Michigan district court claiming their equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment were threatened by Michigan’s admission policy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati heard both cases last year and ruled in favor of the law school’s admission policies in May. The lower court had not yet announced its decision on the undergraduate case, but the Supreme Court will rule on both by June.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs and the University said they were not surprised by the higher court’s decision to hear the cases.

“We are ready to defend our policies before the nation’s highest court,” said Marvin Krislov, University of Michigan vice president and general counsel. “We must be able to assemble a diverse student body if we are to continue providing all students – regardless of their race – with the best possible educational environment.”

The court’s ruling will be its first on campus diversity issues since 1978 when in University of California Regents v. Bakke it said schools could consider race in making admission decisions.

Since then, colleges and universities across the country have used a variety of methods to regulate campus diversity.

University of Minnesota General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said no two schools’ admissions policies are exactly alike, but “the Supreme Court’s decision in the Michigan case will have significant bearing on affirmative action at all public universities.

“We’ve been following that Michigan case very carefully for years, and we’re going to obviously continue to follow it carefully,” Rotenberg said.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on the cases in the spring.

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