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Grutter vs. Bullinger and Gratz vs. Bullinger: Cases Overview

These two cases are considered to be very important regarding legal, moral and ethical implication of policies implemented from schools. They are very similar to each other and yet still so different in the conclusion that can be drawn upon. The “Grutter Vs. Bullinger” case is the first case in the new millennia that the Supreme Court hears about affirmative action in education. The last time was more than twenty five years ago in the “Regents of the University of California vs Bakke” decision.

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The story goes that in 1996,Barbara Grutter, a white resident of Michigan was rejected admission by the University of Michigan Law School. She filed suit in December 1997. Her claim was that she was rejected because the Law School used race as principal factor for admission, giving applicants of underrepresented minority greater chance of admission than other race applicants. In March 2001, U.S. District Court ruled that the admissions policies were unconstitutional because they “clearly consider” race and are “practically indistinguishable from a quota system.” In May 2002, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, citing the Bakke decision and allowing the use of race to further the “compelling interest” of diversity (Devins, 2003: 347). So the case went to the Supreme Court. By a majority vote of 5-4 the Supreme Court authored by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, held that the United States Constitution “does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body” (Levy & Mellor, 2008; 198). But it was added by the majority opinion of the court that “25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today” (Devins, 2003: 348). By doing this the Supreme Court has appraised governmental policies of enhancing racial diversity within public institutions. As long as it is tailored carefully and narrowly, for the Supreme Court it is constitutional. Personally I do concur with the dissent opinion of the four judges headed by Justice Clarence Thomas. In his dissent he emphasized the phrase “25 years from now” and echoed it. I do concur with his opinion that concurred with the majority only on the point that he agreed the system was “illegal now” and would still be illegal 25 years hence (US Supreme Court 508 U.S. 655). Chief Justice Renhquist joined the dissent and further raised an interesting question if the policies of favoring the under-represented and minorities of the society should take away my right of being treated and evaluated on equal grounds with others independent less of our racial background. But in a certain way this question seems to be answered by the next case the Supreme Court was hearing parallel to the one described above.

The “Gratz vs Bollinger” case is very similar to the one described above. Two white applicants, Gratz and Hamacher applied foor entrance at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. They were both rejected entrance and after being contacted by the Center for Individual Rights they filed a suit in October 1997. Their claim was against the 150-point scale University of Michigan used to rank applicants. 100 points were needed for admission.

The problem for them was that the University gave underrepresented ethnic groups, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans, an automatic 20-point bonus on this scale, and a perfect SAT score was equivalence for 12 points. Like the “Grutter vs Bullinger” case they were heard in District Court, appealed to the Circuit Appeal Court and finally went before the Supreme Court. By majority, the Supreme Court decided that Gratz and Hamacher had standing to seek declaratory and injunctive relief, relying on Northeastern Fla. Chapter, Associated Gen. Contractors of America vs Jacksonville. The decision held that the existence of a discriminatory barrier preventing a petitioner from seeking a benefit on an equal basis sufficed to establish injury, regardless of ultimate ability to obtain the benefit (US Supreme Court 508 U.S. 656). Here the Court made a distinction why it ruled different from the Grutter case. The problem was that having fixed quotas for admission was unconstitutional. This is completely different from having a policy that favors racial diversity. In this case the University of Michigan directly discriminates against certain categories of people. This is considered unlawful by the Supreme Court. This distinction is made very clear in this ruling.

So, as we can see by both the cases above, the Supreme Court has adopted a certain “middle way” attitude. It has approved as constitutional the policies of racial diversification of the public institutions of the United States but only in general principles. It has expressly prohibited the use of direct quotas for making precise boundaries of distinction between races. The purpose of the racial diversification policies is not to clearly define the number of representatives one race should have.

By doing so it separates them further. On the contrary, these policies aim at enhancing understanding and collaboration among different races and racial backgrounds. The cases shown above are an example for this.


  1. Devins, Neal (2003). “Explaining Grutter v. Bollinger“. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 152 (1): 347–383.
  2. Levy, Robert. Mellor, William. (2008). “Equal Protection and Racial Preferences”. The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom. New York: Sentinel. pp. 198–214.
  3. The United States Supreme Court. Case 508 U.S. 656.

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