WASHINGTON – Six years ago, Barbara Grutter was looking over a letter of rejection from the Law School. Today, she will look over nine Supreme Court justices as they hear her lawyers argue that she was denied admission because of an illegal system of racial preference.
The hearing today is the result of a lawsuit she filed to challenge the school’s use of race in its admissions policies.
“We all feel very much a sense of ‘We need to be here, and it’s time for us to be here,'” Grutter said at a press conference yesterday with Jennifer Gratz and Patrick Hamacher, the two plaintiffs suing the College of Literature, Science and the Arts for its race-conscious admissions policies.
All three applicants said they were feeling a wide range of emotions in the hours preceding the start of the oral arguments that the court will hear at 10 a.m. today. They added that these cases are more about discrimination by the University on the basis of their skin color than the methods or actual policies of the Law School or LSA.
“We are taught in our schools and in our homes and in our churches that you should never judge another person based on her skin color,” Gratz said at the conference, which was organized by the Center for Individual Rights, the law firm representing the plaintiffs.
“Patrick, Barbara and I are asking only that everyone be judged according to the same standard, regardless of race. That’s what the Constitution requires, and that’s what we’ll ask the Supreme Court to reaffirm tomorrow.”
Hamacher said his 3.3 grade point average, a score of 28 on the ACT and numerous extracurricular activities merited acceptance into the University. “Like Jennifer Gratz, and many hundreds of other white and Asian applicants, I wasn’t treated fairly by the University of Michigan because they explicitly considered our race to be a negative factor,” Hamacher said.
Although they said the University’s policies discriminated against them, all three applicants said they want to pursue graduate-level education and would still consider attending the University. Grutter, a 49-year-old mother of two and health care information technology consultant in Michigan, said she plans to reapply to the Law School if the court requires it to use a race-neutral policy.
“I have not relinquished the desire to combine the practice of law with health care information system management,” she said.
Hamacher, a 24-year-old accountant from Flint, said he hopes to apply to the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy if the court rules in his favor. Gratz, who is 25 years old and a software trainer in Oceanside, Calif., said she would consider attending a University graduate school but may choose a school closer to her current home.
CIR President Terence Pell also spoke at the conference, saying he believes the University has “operated blatantly segregated, two-track admissions systems designed to boost the number of minorities.”
Although he refused to predict the court’s ruling, which is expected to be announced in June, Pell said he considers a clear, sweeping ban on race-conscious admissions policies a victory.
If the court upholds both policies, “there will be no end to (the University’s) type of racial engineering,” Pell said. But minority enrollment at schools like the University of Texas, whose race-conscious policies were overturned by lower level courts, reveals that the effect of banning the use of race as an admissions factor would not be significant, he said.
“Having seen what’s happened in those few states, the court is free to judge these cases based on the constitutionality,” he said. “They don’t have to be afraid … of re-segregation.”
Pell conceded that the court might uphold the use of race in admissions while ruling that the University’s policies place too much weight on race, but he said such a decision would be “very confusing because it would allow the legal rationale to live on for another day while striking down the full range of means schools use.
“If the court would strike both of these policies unconstitutional, it’s not clear what would be left,” he said.
Hundreds of prominent corporations and national organizations concerned with diversity in the workplace filed briefs supporting the University. Pell said a ruling overturning the University’s policies would not affect those groups. He added that their briefs are not relevant to the cases because they only address the general importance of diversity, which can be achieved without racial plus factors.
“None of these briefs address either these admissions systems or the idea of two-track systems in general,” he said.
Grutter said she is not concerned about the briefs or the businesses’ reputations making any impression on the justices. “I know of no one who looks to businesses and corporations for the moral and ideological high road,” she said.
The businesses should have sent neutral briefs to the court saying that they support diversity in higher education so they can achieve diversity in their firms, Hamacher said.
As an example of a race-neutral admissions system that can create a diverse student body, Pell cited a Texas program that guarantees admission to a state college to any applicant finishing in the top 10 percent of his or her high school class.
He said that although some public universities in Texas, California, Washington and Florida operate similar percentage plans, other schools in the states use approaches with broader ranges of admissions criteria. Every school should devise a race-neutral system based on its academic mission to try to enroll a significant number of minorities, Pell added.
One of CIR’s lawyers, Larry Purdy, also spoke at the conference. He outlined arguments similar to Pell’s and added that many minority students accepted into the University are not prepared to succeed academically and drop out at higher rates than white students.