Although the racial plus factor used by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts’ admissions policy brings an underrepresented minority applicant with a 3.0 grade point average to the level of a white candidate with a 4.0 GPA, the U.S. Supreme Court did not rule that granting too many points for race was the LSA’s primary constitutional fault.

Instead, the court found that the LSA policy – which grants 20 points for race out of a possible 150 – is unconstitutional because it grants the same number of points to each underrepresented minority, without considering the applicant’s contribution to diversity individually.

Throughout the court’s majority opinion in the LSA case, Cheif Justice William Rehnquist referred to the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke decision, and Justice Lewis Powell’s opinion in the case, as precedent. In that ruling – the court’s last statement on race-conscious admissions before yesterday’s ruling – the court banned racial quotas, but Powell wrote that race could be used as one of many admissions factors.

Such racial plus factors could only be justified in the most limited circumstances, Powell wrote. To pass the court’s strict scrutiny of their policies, schools had to prove that their goal in using race was a compelling state interest and that their policies were narrowly tailored to meet that need.

While the court accepted the University’s rationale that the need for a diverse academic environment is such a state interest, a majority of the justices concluded that the LSA policy was not narrowly tailored. The LSA policy automatically grants each underrepresented minority a set amount of points just because of their race, the Rehnquist opinion states.

“The admissions program Justice Powell described did not contemplate that any single characteristic automatically ensured a specific and identifiable contribution to a university’s diversity,” Rehnquist wrote.

In the ruling, the court did not directly declare point systems unconstitutional. The LSA policy was overturned because it does not consider how much each individual applicant contributes to diversity, both through their race and through other unique characteristics.

“Justice Powell’s opinion in Bakke emphasized the importance of considering each particular applicant as an individual, assessing all of the qualities that individual(s) … possesses, and in turn, evaluating that individual’s ability to contribute to the unique setting of higher education,” the opinion states. “The admissions program Justice Powell described, however, did not contemplate that any single characteristic automatically ensured a specific and identifiable contribution to a university’s diversity.”

University administrators and lawyers have argued that the massive number of applications received – about 25,000 a year – makes a point system more practical than an individual review of each candidate, which would consume time and resources.

But the Rehnquist opinion states that “the fact that the implementation of a program capable of providing individualized consideration might present administrative challenges does not render constitutional an otherwise problematic system.”

Although some applicants are flagged and reviewed individually by the LSA Admissions Review Council, the opinion states that the council does not constitute sufficient individualized review because “it is undisputed that such consideration is the exception and not the rule.”

Writing a concurring opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the point system is not narrowly tailored because it assigns the same value to each racial minority applicant’s contribution to diversity.

“The Office of Undergraduate Admissions relies on the selection index to assign every underrepresented minority applicant the same, automatic 20-point bonus without consideration of the particular background, experiences, or qualities of each individual applicant,” her opinion states.

O’Connor’s opinion also stated that 20 points for race was simply too many. “Even the most outstanding national high school leader could never receive more than five points for his or her contributions,” her opinion states.

Writing the dissenting opinion to the ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the strict level of scrutiny applied to the LSA case would be justified if the nation were free from “rank discrimination” and racial inequality in terms of education and income.

“There is no suggestion that the College adopted its current policy in order to limit or decrease enrollment by any particular racial or ethnic group, and no seats are reserved on the basis of race,” her opinion states.

Justice David Souter also wrote a dissenting opinion that states that the very nature of race-conscious admissions policies require awarding a value to minorities that increases their admissions chances.

“Since college admission is not left entirely to inarticulate intuition, it is hard to see what is inappropriate in assigning some stated value to a relevant characteristics. … Justice Powell’s plus factors necessarily are assigned some values,” the opinion states.

Ginsberg’s opinion also states that the decision may motivate colleges to rely on “camouflage” tactics to determine an applicant’s race, such as encouraging applicants to write essays about cultural traditions or to list the Hispanic names of their relatives.

“If honesty is the best policy, then surely Michigan’s accurately described, fully disclosed College affirmative action program is preferable to achieving similar numbers through winks, nods, and disguises,” her opinion states.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer wrote short concurring opinions. Souter and Justice John Paul Stevens also wrote dissenting opinions dealing with the more technical issue of whether the plaintiffs deserved compensation for being rejected by LSA.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.