Equal Protection and Affirmative Action

Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger (2003)

Case background and primary source documents concerning the Supreme Court case of Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. Dealing with the principle of equal protection and affirmative action, this lesson asks students to evaluate the Court’s reasoning in upholding Grutter while striking down Gratz.

Founding Principles

Equal Protection image

Equal Protection

The principle of equal justice under law means that every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law. There are no individuals or groups who are born with the right to rule over others.

Equality image

Equality

Every individual is equal to every other person in regards to natural rights and treatment before the law.

Case Background

In 1978, the Supreme Court handed down a fractured ruling on affirmative action in public universities. In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the plurality decision found UC-Davis’s special admissions program to be a quota that was not consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Twenty-five years later, two affirmative action cases originating at the University of Michigan reached the Court. Both cases concerned Caucasian applicants who believed they had been unfairly denied admission because of the university’s admissions policies.

In Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), the Court examined the university’s Law School program, which sought to admit a “critical mass” of minority students. The second case, Gratz v. Bollinger, concerned the admissions policy of the University’s Literature, Science and Arts School (LSA). This admissions program automatically awarded 20 points out of the 100 necessary for acceptance to members of minority groups. The legal reasoning for affirmative action in the two Michigan cases was partially different from the reasoning in Bakke. Affirmative action began as a way of compensating groups for unjust discrimination they had suffered. By 2003, the University of Michigan based its reasoning on promoting diversity.

In Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court had a chance to clarify its ruling in Bakke and determine the extent to which public universities could constitutionally consider race as a factor in admissions.

Key Question

Evaluate the Court’s reasoning in upholding Grutter while striking down Gratz.

Directions

Read the Case Background and Key Question. Then analyze Documents A-L. Finally, answer the Key Question in a well-organized essay that incorporates your interpretations of Documents A-L, as well as your own knowledge of history.

Materials

  1. Frederick Douglass, What the Black Man Wants: An Address Delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, 1865
  2. Section of the Fourteenth Amendment, 1868
  3. Opinion of Thurgood Marshall, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 1978
  4. University of Michigan Law School Brief, 2003
  5. Majority Opinion (5-4), Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003
  6. Dissenting Opinion (William Rehnquist), Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003
  7. Opinion of Antonin Scalia, Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003
  8. Opinion of Clarence Thomas, Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003
  9. Majority Opinion (6-3), Gratz v. Bollinger, 2003
  10. Dissenting Opinion (David Souter), Gratz v. Bollinger, 2003
  11. Dissenting Opinion (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), Gratz v. Bollinger, 2003
  12. “U of M Case,” 2003

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