Separate is not equal: May 17, 1954

In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court rules ‘separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,’ forcing schools to desegregate. The case was filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People after Oliver Brown attempted to enroll his daughter, Linda, into an all-white elementary school but failed.

Setting a precedent: June 28, 1978

Allan Bakke, a white applicant to the medical school at the University of California at Davis, sues the institution because he believes its race-based admissions policy discriminated against whites. The case eventually finds its way to a divided Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court rules the use of quotas to admit minorities unconstitutional. In his opinion, Justice Lewis Powell says race-conscious admissions are acceptable in college admissions. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Thurgood Marshall states he agrees “with the judgment of the Court only insofar as it permits a university to consider the race of an applicant in making admissions decisions.”

Split circuits: March 18, 1996

Four white applicants to the University of Texas Law School challenge the college’s admissions policy, stating they were unfairly rejected from the school. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rules the Supreme Court’s Bakke decision to be invalid in the case and suspends the use of race-based admissions in the circuit. The Supreme Court later chooses not to hear the case.

It also later declines to hear similar cases involving race-conscious admissions policies at the University of Washington, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of using race as a factor in admissions, and the University of Georgia, in which the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against race-conscious admissions policies.

Entering the national spotlight

Coming to ‘U’: Oct. 4, 1997

The Center for Individual Rights sues the University’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts on behalf of two white applicants denied admission. The case is Gratz v. Bollinger.

Then there were two: Dec. 3, 1997

The CIR files a second suit, this time against the University’s Law School – Grutter v. Bollinger. The University becomes a spotlight for activists, and then-University President Lee Bollinger becomes a national spokesman for diversity in higher education.

Students jump in: Aug. 10, 1999

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals allows 58 students and four pro-affirmative action groups to join the lawsuits as defendants.

Dec. 13, 2000

The University’s undergraduate policy is upheld by U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan.

Feb. 8, 2001

The University’s Law School policy is stuck down by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman.

Dec. 6, 2001

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals hears arguments in both University cases.

Bakke still rules: May 14, 2002

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses Judge Friedman’s decision. Circuit Chief Judge Boyce Martin writes in the majority opinion, “because Bakke remains the law until the Supreme Court instructs otherwise, we reject the district court’s conclusion and find that the Law School has a compelling interest in achieving a diverse student body.”

A Supreme decision: Dec. 2, 2002

The U.S. Supreme Court announces its decision to hear both Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger.

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