Supreme Court ruling expected

Nathan Halverson

The lawsuit brought against the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policy is the most important U.S. Supreme Court case on higher education in almost 30 years, University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said.

The court’s decision, expected this week, will determine the future of affirmative action on college campuses, including the University of Minnesota. To some, that means the future of student diversity on college campuses.

The case began Oct. 14, 1997, when three white students who were denied admission sued the University of Michigan for using race as a factor for admission. Michigan uses a 150-point scale when considering a student for admission. If the student is a minority he or she receives an automatic 20-point boost.

Depending on how the court words its decision, the University of Minnesota – which does not use a point system, but does consider race as an admissions factor – could be forced to change its admission policy, Rotenberg said. And scholarships that are administered through the University for minority students could be affected, too.

For instance, if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs and decrees that using race as a basis of admission is unconstitutional, then the University have to drop race from its admission criteria and stop administering scholarships established for minorities.

However, if it is a tightly contested decision with a 5-4 vote and strongly dissenting opinions, then the future of affirmative action will be less clear.

If that occurs, Rotenberg said, “It will continue to be a muddy issue.”

In preparation for the ruling, the University held a symposium its senior officers and admission officials attended to discuss the potential impact of the ruling on admission policies, Rotenberg said.

The University uses a tiered admission process. The first factors evaluated are high school academic rank, grade point average, ACT score and classes taken. But in the second tier, the University attempts to increase diversity by using race along with other factors, such as geographic difference and gender. So even if Michigan’s point system is ruled unconstitutional, the University’s tiered policy could be deemed legal depending on how the justices word their ruling.

“This decision is the most significant since Bakke,” said Guy-Uriel Charles, a University law professor who has been following the case.

In the 1978 University of California v. Bakke ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that using a quota system, which requires that a minimum number of minorities are admitted, was unconstitutional.

This new challenge on affirmative action has elicited responses from politicians, corporations, students and minority groups.

The George W. Bush administration, which filed a brief in favor of the plaintiffs, said Michigan’s policy was a thinly veiled quota.

However, regular supporters of the Bush administration disagreed. A group of Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft, Intel and General Motors, filed briefs supporting Michigan’s affirmative action policy.

“It makes good business sense,” Charles said. “You need a diverse work pool because you’re dealing with a diverse consumer base.”

Also, many businesses and consumers want ethical business practices and that means having a workforce that is not all white, Charles said.

Charles said he thinks the ruling will adversely affect diversity.

“There is very little doubt in my mind that if the ruling comes out in favor of the complainant, it will have a negative effect on the gain towards diversity,” he said.

Nathan Halverson covers police and legal affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]