The United States Supreme Court
The University of Michigan Admissions Lawsuits

Grutter v. Bollinger
(No. 02-241 -- June 23, 2003)


YES! Justice O'CONNOR (delivering the Opinion of the Court, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer, pp 21-31): The School's admissions policy follows the strictures laid down by Justice Powell in Regents v. Bakke. It bars racial quotas, and provides every applicant an individualized decision process that takes account of many diversity factors in addition to race and ethnicity. It does not unduly harm the interests of white and Asian applicants.

NO! Chief Justice REHNQUIST (dissenting, joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas, pp 1-10): The School favors black applicants over Hispanics and Native Americans who have similar grades and scores. The professed goal is a "critical mass" of these students, but the actual goal is racial balancing, making each group's percentage of total admittees similar to its percentage of total applicants. This is unconstitutional.

Comments by Curtis Crawford,* indented in italics.


Justice O'Connor, page 21


*Even in the limited circumstance when drawing racial distinctions is permissible to further a compelling state interest,* government is still "constrained in how it may pursue that end: **[T]he means chosen to accomplish the [government's] asserted purpose must be specifically and narrowly framed to accomplish that purpose." Shaw v. Hunt, 517 U.S. 899, 908 (1996) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The purpose of the narrow tailoring requirement is to ensure that "the means chosen 'fit' ... th[e] compelling goal so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate racial prejudice or stereotype."** Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S., at 493 (plurality opinion).


* The previous section of the Majority Opinion has declared (p 13) that "student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions." As I commented there, the concept of student body diversity, when the diversity is unspecified, is indeterminate and ambiguous.

According to the dictionary, "diverse" means different; its opposite is "similar." These two words can be said of everything that exists. At any university, the students will be different from each other in myriad ways, and similar in myriad others. Both "diversity" and "similarity" may be good in some respects and bad in others, or good up to a point and not past that point.

A specific kind and degree of student body diversity might be sufficiently definite and unambiguous to be considered as a possible compelling interest. But the notion of a compelling interest to pursue diversity in general is nonsense.

** The Court's established criteria for narrow tailoring expose some of the disadvantages of an unspecified compelling interest. When such an interest is unspecified, it is manifestly impossible to determine whether a means is "specifically and narrowly framed to accomplish" it. Likewise, there is no way to know whether "the means chosen" fit a compelling interest "so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate."

Since Bakke, we have had no occasion to define the contours of the narrow-tailoring inquiry with respect to race-conscious university admissions programs. That inquiry must be calibrated to fit the distinct issues raised by the use of race to achieve student body diversity in public higher education. Contrary to Justice Kennedy's assertions, we do not "abandon[ ] strict scrutiny," see post, at 8 (dissenting opinion). Rather, as we have already explained, ante, at 15, we adhere to Adarand's teaching that the very [-22-] purpose of strict scrutiny is to take such " relevant differences into account." 515 U.S., at 228 (internal quotation marks omitted).

To be narrowly tailored, a race-conscious admissions program cannot use a quota system--it cannot "insulat[e] each category of applicants with certain desired qualifications from competition with all other applicants." Bakke, supra, at 315 (opinion of Powell, J.). Instead, a university may consider race or ethnicity only as a " 'plus' in a particular applicant's file," without "insulat[ing] the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats." Id., at 317. In other words, an admissions program must be "flexible enough to consider all pertinent elements of diversity in light of the particular qualifications of each applicant, and to place them on the same footing for consideration, although not necessarily according them the same weight." Ibid.


In this and subsequent paragraphs, undaunted by the impossibility of her task, Justice O'Connor proposes criteria that a "race-conscious admissions program" must meet to qualify as "narrowly tailored." As authority for many of the criteria, she cites dicta from Justice Powell's opinion in Bakke. But these dicta were not endorsed by any other Justice in that case, and their authority is disputed in the lower courts. Justice O'Connor states (at p. 13) that this Court chooses not to enter the argument concerning the authority of Justice Powell's diversity rationale, but instead to adopt the rationale as its own. It is free to do this, but when it does, it cannot treat Justice Powell's various conclusory statements as authority for adopting them. The majority in this case may agree with everything Justice Powell said, but they owe us reasons more solid than the fact that he said it.

For example, Justice Powell is cited as rejecting racial quotas, and also as requiring individualized consideration of every applicant. But whether individualized consideration is essential for narrow tailoring, or quotas are incompatible with it, depends on their closeness of fit to the compelling interest. The Majority has recognized as the compelling interest an unspecified kind and amount of "diversity" among university students. But there is no way of determining the closeness of fit between a means and an unspecified end. If the student body "diversity" in Justice Powell's Opinion was unspecified, his judgments concerning the fitness of means had no basis. If it was specified, his rationale concerns a different compelling interest than that which the Majority promulgates in this case.

We find that the Law School's admissions program bears the hallmarks of a narrowly tailored plan. As Justice Powell made clear in Bakke, truly individualized consideration demands that race be used in a flexible, nonmechanical way. It follows from this mandate that universities cannot establish quotas for members of certain racial groups or put members of those groups on separate admissions tracks. See id., at 315-316. Nor can universities insulate applicants who belong to certain racial or ethnic groups from the competition for admission. Ibid. Universities can, however, consider race or ethnicity more flexibly as a "plus" factor in the context of individualized consideration of each and every applicant. Ibid.

We are satisfied that the Law School's admissions program, like the Harvard plan described by Justice Powell, does not operate as a quota. Properly understood, a "quota" is a program in which a certain fixed number or proportion of opportunities are "reserved exclusively for certain minority groups." Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., [-23-] supra, at 496 (plurality opinion). *Quotas " 'impose a fixed number or percentage which must be attained, or which cannot be exceeded,' " Sheet Metal Workers v. EEOC, 478 U.S. 421, 495 (1986) (O'Connor, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), and "insulate the individual from comparison with all other candidates for the available seats." Bakke, supra, at 317 (opinion of Powell, J.). In contrast, "a permissible goal ... require[s] only a good-faith effort ... to come within a range demarcated by the goal itself," Sheet Metal Workers v. EEOC, supra, at 495, and permits consideration of race as a "plus" factor in any given case while still ensuring that each candidate "compete[s] with all other qualified applicants," Johnson v. Transportation Agency, Santa Clara Cty., 480 U.S. 616, 638 (1987).*

  * From previous dicta, reasonable definitions are provided here for "quota" and "goal." Agreeing with Justice Powell, Justice O'Connor holds the latter compatible with narrow tailoring and the former not. But she lacks any basis for this holding, so long as the compelling interest is unspecified.

Justice Powell's distinction between the medical school's rigid 16-seat quota and Harvard's flexible use of race as a "plus" factor is instructive. Harvard certainly had minimum goals for minority enrollment, even if it had no specific number firmly in mind. See Bakke, supra, at 323 (opinion of Powell, J.) ("10 or 20 black students could not begin to bring to their classmates and to each other the variety of points of view, backgrounds and experiences of blacks in the United States"). What is more, Justice Powell flatly rejected the argument that Harvard's program was "the functional equivalent of a quota" merely because it had some " 'plus' " for race, or gave greater "weight" to race than to some other factors, in order to achieve student body diversity. 438 U.S., at 317-318.

The Law School's goal of attaining a critical mass of underrepresented minority students does not transform its program into a quota. As the Harvard plan described by Justice Powell recognized, there is of course "some relationship between numbers and achieving the benefits to be derived from a diverse student body, and between numbers and providing a reasonable environment for [-24-] those students admitted." Id., at 323. "[S]ome attention to numbers," without more, does not transform a flexible admissions system into a rigid quota. Ibid. Nor, as Justice Kennedy posits, does the Law School's consultation of the "daily reports," which keep track of the racial and ethnic composition of the class (as well as of residency and gender), "suggest[ ] there was no further attempt at individual review save for race itself" during the final stages of the admissions process. See post, at 6 (dissenting opinion). To the contrary, the Law School's admissions officers testified without contradiction that they never gave race any more or less weight based on the information contained in these reports. Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 43, n. 70 (citing App. in Nos. 01-1447 and 01-1516 (CA6), p. 7336). Moreover, as Justice Kennedy concedes, see post, at 4, between 1993 and 2000, the number of African-American, Latino, and Native-American students in each class at the Law School varied from 13.5 to 20.1 percent, a range inconsistent with a quota.

The Chief Justice believes that the Law School's policy conceals an attempt to achieve racial balancing, and cites admissions data to contend that the Law School discriminates among different groups within the critical mass. Post, at 3-9 (dissenting opinion). But, as The Chief Justice concedes, the number of underrepresented minority students who ultimately enroll in the Law School differs substantially from their representation in the applicant pool and varies considerably for each group from year to year. See post, at 8 (dissenting opinion).

  This paragraph acknowledges the existence of an important accusation, but fails to provide an innocent explanation of the data that prompted the charge. In short, the Chief Justice's argument is noted and dismissed, with no examination or refutation. (So much for the privileges of rank!)

That a race-conscious admissions program does not operate as a quota does not, by itself, satisfy the requirement of individualized consideration. When using race as a "plus" factor in university admissions, a university's admissions program must remain flexible enough to ensure that each applicant is evaluated as an individual and not in a way that makes an applicant's race or ethnicity [-25-] the defining feature of his or her application. The importance of this individualized consideration in the context of a race-conscious admissions program is paramount. See Bakke, supra, at 318, n. 52 (opinion of Powell, J.) (identifying the "denial ... of th[e] right to individualized consideration" as the "principal evil" of the medical school's admissions program).

Here, the Law School engages in a highly individualized, holistic review of each applicant's file, giving serious consideration to *all the ways an applicant might contribute to a diverse educational environment.* The Law School affords this individualized consideration to applicants of all races. There is no policy, either de jure or de facto, of automatic acceptance or rejection based on any single "soft" variable. Unlike the program at issue in Gratz v. Bollinger, ante, the Law School awards no mechanical, predetermined diversity "bonuses" based on race or ethnicity. See ante, at 23 (distinguishing a race-conscious admissions program that automatically awards 20 points based on race from the Harvard plan, which considered race but "did not contemplate that any single characteristic automatically ensured a specific and identifiable contribution to a university's diversity"). Like the Harvard plan, *the Law School's admissions policy "is flexible enough to consider all pertinent elements of diversity in light of the particular qualifications of each applicant,* and to place them on the same footing for consideration, although not necessarily according them the same weight." Bakke, supra, at 317 (opinion of Powell, J.).

  * Up until now, the kind of student body "diversity" emphasized by the Majority Opinion has been racial and ethnic. But this and the following paragraphs indicate that many other kinds are included in the compelling interest, which thereby gains some specificity. We can now understand why an individualized review of each applicant's file might fit the goal better than the use of racial quotas. Under individualized review, every diversity factor has the chance in theory to affect admission; this chance would be precluded in admissions determined by a quota. In practice, of course, the latter result can be obtained by consistently giving much greater weight to certain racial, as compared with other, diversity factors. (The comparative weight given to race by the Law School can be seen here.)

We also find that, like the Harvard plan Justice Powell referenced in Bakke, *the Law School's race-conscious admissions program adequately ensures that all factors that may contribute to student body diversity are meaningfully considered alongside race in admissions decisions.* With respect to the use of race itself, all underrepresented minority students admitted by the Law School have been [-26-] deemed qualified. By virtue of our Nation's struggle with racial inequality, such students are both likely to have experiences of particular importance to the Law School's mission, and less likely to be admitted in meaningful numbers on criteria that ignore those experiences. See App. 120.


* In the context of an Opinion that holds "student body diversity" to be a compelling state interest, this sentence suggests that "all factors that may contribute to student body diversity" are desirable, and thus add somewhat to the chance of admission. Do not believe it. There are a host of factors that would "contribute to student body diversity" which, if an applicant is known to bring, will ordinarily cause rejection. These factors include the disposition to steal, to cheat, to plagiarize, to lie, to rape, and to respond violently to criticism or disagreement; also, the inability to speak, read, write and understand English well, or academic performance that is average or below.

Of course, much of the confusion concerning student body "diversity" as a compelling interest would be avoided by adequately specifying it. But that is easier said than done. One could try to separate the desirable and undesirable kinds of "diversity," including only the former as a compelling state interest. At first it might seem that "diversity" in such basic factors as personality, character, background, perspective, and values would always be desirable. But on reflection it might well appear that, with all these factors, similarity is as likely to be beneficial as diversity, depending on what kind of personality, etc. is the point of comparison.

The Law School does not, however, limit in any way the broad range of qualities and experiences that may be considered valuable contributions to student body diversity. *To the contrary, the 1992 policy makes clear "[t]here are many possible bases for diversity admissions," and provides examples of admittees who have lived or traveled widely abroad, are fluent in several languages, have overcome personal adversity and family hardship, have exceptional records of extensive community service, and have had successful careers in other fields. Id., at 118-119. The Law School seriously considers each "applicant's promise of making a notable contribution to the class by way of a particular strength, attainment, or characteristic--e.g., an unusual intellectual achievement, employment experience, nonacademic performance, or personal background." Id., at 83-84.* All applicants have the opportunity to highlight their own potential diversity contributions through the submission of a personal statement, letters of recommendation, and an essay describing the ways in which the applicant will contribute to the life and diversity of the Law School.

  * Another way of saying this is that the extra points awarded to some white and Asian applicants for having "lived or traveled widely abroad," or being "fluent in several languages," or having "overcome personal adversity and family hardship," or having "exceptional records of extensive community service," or having had "successful careers in other fields," or for "an unusual intellectual achievement" - are awarded to black, Hispanic and Native American applicants simply for being black, Hispanic and Native American.

What is more, the Law School actually gives substantial weight to diversity factors besides race. The Law School frequently accepts nonminority applicants with grades and test scores lower than underrepresented minority applicants (and other nonminority applicants) who are rejected. See Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 10; App. 121-122. This shows that the Law School seriously weighs many other diversity factors besides race that can make a real and dispositive difference for nonminority [-27-] applicants as well. By this flexible approach, the Law School sufficiently takes into account, in practice as well as in theory, a wide variety of characteristics besides race and ethnicity that contribute to a diverse student body. *Justice Kennedy speculates that "race is likely outcome determinative for many members of minority groups" who do not fall within the upper range of LSAT scores and grades.* Post, at 3 (dissenting opinion). But the same could be said of the Harvard plan discussed approvingly by Justice Powell in Bakke, and indeed of any plan that uses race as one of many factors. See 438 U.S.,at 316 (" 'When the Committee on Admissions reviews the large middle group of applicants who are "admissible" and deemed capable of doing good work in their courses, the race of an applicant may tip the balance in his favor' ").

  * Another important objection dismissed without examination or refutation.

Petitioner and the United States argue that the Law School's plan is not narrowly tailored because race-neutral means exist to obtain the educational benefits of student body diversity that the Law School seeks. We disagree. Narrow tailoring does not require exhaustion of every conceivable race-neutral alternative. Nor does it require a university to choose between maintaining a reputation for excellence or fulfilling *a commitment to provide educational opportunities to members of all racial groups.* See Wygant v. Jackson Bd. of Ed., 476 U.S. 267, 280, n. 6 (1986) (alternatives must serve the interest " 'about as well' "); Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S., at 509-510 (plurality opinion) (city had a "whole array of race-neutral" alternatives because changing requirements "would have [had] little detrimental effect on the city's interests"). Narrow tailoring does, however, require serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives that will achieve the diversity the university seeks. See id., at 507 (set-aside plan not narrowly tailored where "there does not appear to have been any consideration of the use of race-neutral means"); Wygant v. Jackson [-28-] Bd. of Ed., supra, at 280, n. 6 (narrow tailoring "require[s] consideration" of "lawful alternative and less restrictive means").

  * This language fudges the issue. Justice O'Connor implies that the Law School's "commitment to provide educational opportunities to members of all racial groups" explains its use of race in admissions. But the School's commitment is not what this language reasonably implies, which is to admit the best applicants, no matter what their race. Instead, the School seeks to assure the admission, because of their race, of many applicants who are not the best. The Opinion takes a slogan of racial nondiscrimination, and uses it to gild discrimination.

We agree with the Court of Appeals that the Law School sufficiently considered workable race-neutral alternatives. The District Court took the Law School to task for failing to consider race-neutral alternatives such as "using a lottery system" or "decreasing the emphasis for all applicants on undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores." App. to Pet. for Cert. 251a. But these alternatives would require a dramatic sacrifice of diversity, the academic quality of all admitted students, or both.

The Law School's current admissions program considers race as one factor among many, in an effort to assemble a student body that is diverse in ways broader than race. * Because a lottery would make that kind of nuanced judgment impossible, it would effectively sacrifice all other educational values, not to mention every other kind of diversity.* So too with the suggestion that the Law School simply lower admissions standards for all students, a drastic remedy that would require the Law School to become a much different institution and sacrifice a vital component of its educational mission. The United States advocates "percentage plans," recently adopted by public undergraduate institutions in Texas, Florida, and California to guarantee admission to all students above a certain class-rank threshold in every high school in the State. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 14-18. The United States does not, however, explain how such plans could work for graduate and professional schools. Moreover, even assuming such plans are race-neutral, they may preclude the university from conducting the individualized assessments necessary to assemble a student body that is not just racially diverse, but diverse along all the qualities valued by the university. We are satisfied that the Law School adequately considered race-neutral alternatives [-29-] currently capable of producing a critical mass without forcing the Law School to abandon the academic selectivity that is the cornerstone of its educational mission.


* Certainly, a "lottery ... would effectively sacrifice" the school's freedom to choose the best applicants, but it would not sacrifice "every other kind of diversity" (besides racial). Indeed, it would increase many kinds of "diversity," including the amount of variance in the academic ability and achievement of the students enrolled. This would be an entering class that looked more like America in parentage, homelife, upbringing, personalities, opinions, tastes, social class, economic level, religious belief, political affiliation, etc. If promotion of "every other kind of diversity" is a "compelling interest," a lottery would certainly do it.

Here the Opinion strikingly exposes the indeterminacy and ambiguity of student body "diversity," unspecified, as a public goal. One cannot tell what it is, let alone whether it is essential or even desirable . One cannot tell which means would advance it, let alone in a narrowly tailored manner. Unable to tailor racial preference to an unspecified end, the Court has tailored it instead to previous dicta, primarily from Justice Powell's Opinion in Bakke.

We acknowledge that "there are serious problems of justice connected with the idea of preference itself." Bakke, 438 U.S., at 298 (opinion of Powell, J.). Narrow tailoring, therefore, requires that a race-conscious admissions program not unduly harm members of any racial group. Even remedial race-based governmental action generally "remains subject to continuing oversight to assure that it will work the least harm possible to other innocent persons competing for the benefit." Id., at 308. To be narrowly tailored, a race-conscious admissions program must not "unduly burden individuals who are not members of the favored racial and ethnic groups." Metro Broadcasting, Inc. v. FCC, 497 U.S. 547, 630 (1990) (O'Connor, J., dissenting).

We are satisfied that the Law School's admissions program does not. Because the Law School considers "all pertinent elements of diversity," it can (and does) select nonminority applicants who have greater potential to enhance student body diversity over underrepresented minority applicants. See Bakke, supra, at 317 (opinion of Powell, J.). As Justice Powell recognized in Bakke, so long as a race-conscious admissions program uses race as a "plus" factor in the context of individualized consideration, a rejected applicant

  "will not have been foreclosed from all consideration for that seat simply because he was not the right color or had the wrong surname... . His qualifications would have been weighed fairly and competitively, and he would have no basis to complain of unequal treatment under the Fourteenth Amendment." 438 U.S.,at 318..

We agree that, in the context of its individualized inquiry [-30-] into the possible diversity contributions of all applicants, the Law School's race-conscious admissions program does not unduly harm nonminority applicants.

We are mindful, however, that "[a] core purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to do away with all governmentally imposed discrimination based on race." Palmore v. Sidoti, 466 U.S. 429, 432 (1984). *Accordingly, race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time.* This requirement reflects that racial classifications, however compelling their goals, are potentially so dangerous that they may be employed no more broadly than the interest demands. Enshrining a permanent justification for **racial preferences** would offend this fundamental equal protection principle. We see no reason to exempt race-conscious admissions programs from the requirement that all governmental use of race must have a logical end point. The Law School, too, concedes that all "race-conscious programs must have reasonable durational limits." Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 32.


* A very weak "must," since the Court does not specify the limit.

** Is this the first time in this Opinion that the writer has called the Law School's policy, "racial preferences," rather than "race-conscious policies," "using race," "affirmative action," or "racial classifications"?

In the context of higher education, the durational requirement can be met by sunset provisions in race-conscious admissions policies and periodic reviews to determine whether racial preferences are still necessary to achieve student body diversity. Universities in California, Florida, and Washington State, where racial preferences in admissions are prohibited by state law, are currently engaged in experimenting with a wide variety of alternative approaches. Universities in other States can and should draw on the most promising aspects of these race-neutral alternatives as they develop. Cf. United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 581 (1995) (Kennedy, J., concurring) ("[T]he States may perform their role as laboratories for experimentation to devise various solutions where the best solution is far from clear").

*The requirement that all race-conscious admissions programs have a termination point "assure[s] all citizens [-31-] that the deviation from the norm of equal treatment of all racial and ethnic groups is a temporary matter,* **a measure taken in the service of the goal of equality itself."** Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S., at 510 (plurality opinion); see also Nathanson & Bartnik, The Constitutionality of Preferential Treatment for Minority Applicants to Professional Schools, 58 Chicago Bar Rec. 282, 293 (May-June 1977) ("It would be a sad day indeed, were America to become a quota-ridden society, with each identifiable minority assigned proportional representation in every desirable walk of life. But that is not the rationale for programs of preferential treatment; the acid test of their justification will be their efficacy in eliminating the need for any racial or ethnic preferences at all").


* Alas, not so! If an unrealistic goal were set as the "termination point" of "race-conscious admissions programs," they may well continue indefinitely. Moreover, even if a definite expiration date were set, it could easily be extended.

** "Equality," unspecified, is no more deserving of worship or pursuit than "diversity," unspecified. Equality of rights, regardless of race or ethnicity, is fundamental. Equality of results, regardless of ability, virtue, or inclination, is a noxious chimera.

We take the Law School at its word that it would "like nothing better than to find a race-neutral admissions formula" and will terminate its race-conscious admissions program as soon as practicable. See Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 34; Bakke, supra, at 317-318 (opinion of Powell, J.) (presuming good faith of university officials in the absence of a showing to the contrary). It has been 25 years since Justice Powell first approved the use of race to further an interest in student body diversity in the context of public higher education. *Since that time, the number of minority applicants with high grades and test scores has indeed increased. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 43.* **We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.**


* As evidence for its assertion, the Court cites a statement by counsel for the Law School that "in 1964 when there was a race-blind policy, there were no blacks admitted, and under a race-blind policy today, probably six blacks would be admitted without consideration of race." Justice Thomas' more extensive evidence on the same issue is here.

** This statement expresses an expectation concerning the facts, not a decision concerning the law. The Court is concerned about "racial preferences" in university admissions, welcomes their end "as soon as practicable," but commands no halt, not even in "25 years."


Chief Justice Rehnquist, page 1

I agree with the Court that, "in the limited circumstance when drawing racial distinctions is permissible," *the government must ensure that its means are narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.* Ante, at 21; see also Fullilove v. Klutznick,448 U.S.448,498 (1980) (Powell, J., concurring) ("[E]ven if the government proffers a compelling interest to support reliance upon a suspect classification, the means selected must be narrowly drawn to fulfill the governmental purpose"). *I do not believe, however, that the University of Michigan Law School's (Law School) means are narrowly tailored to the interest it asserts. The Law School claims it must take the steps it does to achieve a " 'critical mass' " of underrepresented minority students.* Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 13. But its actual program bears no relation to this asserted goal. Stripped of its "critical mass" veil, the Law School's program is revealed as a naked effort to achieve racial balancing.


* The "compelling state interest" asserted by the Court as justifying "racial distinctions" in university admissions is "student body diversity." This is the interest that requires "narrowly tailored" means. Chief Justice Rehnquist seems to be substituting a "critical mass" of "underrepresented minority students" as the interest that must be served by "narrowly tailored" means. Logically,
(a) "racial distinctions" in admissions are Michigan's means to achieve
(b) a "critical mass of underrepresented minority students," which in turn is a means to achieve
(c) "student body diversity."

When applying the requirement of narrow tailoring, it is presumably as appropriate to examine the connection between (a) and (b) as between (b) and (c). If the connection between (a) and (b) is not "narrowly tailored," the logical chain is broken, making it unnecessary to examine the connection between (c) and either (a) or (b). This is one way of avoiding the problem of fitting the means to an unspecified end.

As we have explained many times, " ' "[a]ny preference based on racial or ethnic criteria must necessarily receive a most searching examination." ' " Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peņa, 515 U.S. 200, 223 (1995) (quoting Wygant v. Jackson Bd. of Ed., 476 U.S. 267, 273 (1986) [-2-] (plurality opinion of Powell, J.)). Our cases establish that, in order to withstand this demanding inquiry, respondents must demonstrate that their methods of using race " 'fit' " a compelling state interest "with greater precision than any alternative means." Id., at 280, n. 6; Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 299(1978) (opinion of Powell, J.) ("When [political judgments] touch upon an individual's race or ethnic background, he is entitled to a judicial determination that the burden he is asked to bear on that basis is precisely tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest").

Before the Court's decision today, we consistently applied the same strict scrutiny analysis regardless of the government's purported reason for using race and regardless of the setting in which race was being used. We rejected calls to use more lenient review in the face of claims that race was being used in "good faith" because " '[m]ore than good motives should be required when government seeks to allocate its resources by way of an explicit racial classification system.' " Adarand, supra, at 226; Fullilove, supra, at 537 (Stevens, J., dissenting) ("Racial classifications are simply too pernicious to permit any but the most exact connection between justification and classification"). We likewise rejected calls to apply more lenient review based on the particular setting in which race is being used. Indeed, even in the specific context of higher education, we emphasized that "constitutional limitations protecting individual rights may not be disregarded." Bakke, supra, at 314.

Although the Court recites the language of our strict scrutiny analysis, its application of that review is unprecedented in its deference.

Respondents' asserted justification for the Law School's use of race in the admissions process is "obtaining 'the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.' " Ante, at 15 (quoting Brief for Respondents [-3-] Bollinger et al. i). They contend that a "critical mass" of underrepresented minorities is necessary to further that interest. Ante, at 17. Respondents and school administrators explain generally that "critical mass" means a sufficient number of underrepresented minority students to achieve several objectives: To ensure that these minority students do not feel isolated or like spokespersons for their race; to provide adequate opportunities for the type of interaction upon which the educational benefits of diversity depend; and to challenge all students to think critically and reexamine stereotypes. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 211a; Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 26. These objectives indicate that "critical mass" relates to the size of the student body. Id., at 5 (claiming that the Law School has enrolled "critical mass," or "enough minority students to provide meaningful integration of its classrooms and residence halls"). Respondents further claim that the Law School is achieving "critical mass." Id., at 4 (noting that the Law School's goals have been "greatly furthered by the presence of ... a 'critical mass' of " minority students in the student body).

In practice, the Law School's program bears little or no relation to its asserted goal of achieving "critical mass." Respondents explain that the Law School seeks to accumulate a "critical mass" of each underrepresented minority group. See, e.g., id., at 49, n. 79 ("The Law School's ... current policy ... provide[s] a special commitment to enrolling a 'critical mass' of 'Hispanics' "). But the record demonstrates that the Law School's admissions practices with respect to these groups differ dramatically and cannot be defended under any consistent use of the term "critical mass." From 1995 through 2000, the Law School admitted between 1,130 and 1,310 students. Of those, between 13 and 19 were Native American, between 91 and 108 were African-Americans, and between 47 and 56 were Hispanic. [-4-] If the Law School is admitting between 91 and 108 African-Americans in order to achieve "critical mass," thereby preventing African-American students from feeling "isolated or like spokespersons for their race," one would think that a number of the same order of magnitude would be necessary to accomplish the same purpose for Hispanics and Native Americans. Similarly, even if all of the Native American applicants admitted in a given year matriculate, which the record demonstrates is not at all the case, * how can this possibly constitute a "critical mass" of Native Americans in a class of over 350 students? In order for this pattern of admission to be consistent with the Law School's explanation of "critical mass," one would have to believe that the objectives of "critical mass" offered by respondents are achieved with only half the number of Hispanics and one-sixth the number of Native Americans as compared to African-Americans. But respondents offer no race-specific reasons for such disparities. Instead, they simply emphasize the importance of achieving "critical mass," without any explanation of why that concept is applied differently among the three underrepresented minority groups.

  Chief Justice Rehnquist's argument here - that the Law School's admissions practices have been inconsistent with its asserted goal of enrolling a "critical mass" of each of the three "underrepresented minority groups" - is not examined or refuted by the Court.

These different numbers, moreover, come only as a result of substantially different treatment among the three underrepresented minority groups, as is apparent in an example offered by the Law School and highlighted by the Court: The school asserts that it "frequently accepts nonminority applicants with grades and test scores lower than underrepresented minority applicants (and other nonminority applicants) who are rejected." Ante, at 26 [-5-] (citing Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 10). Specifically, the Law School states that "[s]ixty-nine minority applicants were rejected between 1995 and 2000 with at least a 3.5 [Grade Point Average (GPA)] and a [score of] 159 or higher on the [Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)]" while a number of Caucasian and Asian-American applicants with similar or lower scores were admitted. Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 10.

Review of the record reveals only 67 such individuals. Of these 67 individuals, 56 were Hispanic, while only 6 were African-American, and only 5 were Native American. This discrepancy reflects a consistent practice. For example, in 2000, 12 Hispanics who scored between a 159-160 on the LSAT and earned a GPA of 3.00 or higher applied for admission and only 2 were admitted. App. 200-201. Meanwhile, 12 African-Americans in the same range of qualifications applied for admission and all 12 were admitted. Id., at 198. Likewise, that same year, 16 Hispanics who scored between a 151-153 on the LSAT and earned a 3.00 or higher applied for admission and only 1 of those applicants was admitted. Id., at 200-201. Twenty-three similarly qualified African-Americans applied for admission and 14 were admitted. Id., at 198.

  Chief Justice Rehnquist's evidence that the Law School discriminates for black applicants over Hispanic and Native Americans with similar qualifications is not examined or refuted by the Court. It is confirmed by tables submitted by the Petitioner in District Court trial testimony, showing the odds ratios of admission 1995-2000 for blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans as compared to whites with similar grades and scores. The implied odds of admission for blacks relative to Hispanics and Native Americans were often three or four and sometimes more than ten times as great. The table for 1995 is reproduced in Petitioner's Opening Supreme Court Brief (PDF page 9).

These statistics have a significant bearing on petitioner's case. Respondents have never offered any race-specific arguments explaining why significantly more individuals from one underrepresented minority group are needed in order to achieve "critical mass" or further student body diversity. They certainly have not explained why Hispanics, who they have said are among "the groups most isolated by racial barriers in our country," should have their admission capped out in this manner. Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 50. True, petitioner is neither Hispanic nor Native American. But the Law School's disparate admissions practices with respect to these minority groups demonstrate that its alleged goal of "critical [-6-] mass" is simply a sham. Petitioner may use these statistics to expose this sham, which is the basis for the Law School's admission of less qualified underrepresented minorities in preference to her. Surely strict scrutiny cannot permit these sort of disparities without at least some explanation.

Only when the "critical mass" label is discarded does a likely explanation for these numbers emerge. The Court states that the Law School's goal of attaining a "critical mass" of underrepresented minority students is not an interest in merely " 'assur[ing] within its student body some specified percentage of a particular group merely because of its race or ethnic origin.' " Ante, at 17 (quoting Bakke, 438 U.S., at 307(opinion of Powell, J.)). The Court recognizes that such an interest "would amount to outright racial balancing, which is patently unconstitutional." Ante, at 17. The Court concludes, however, that the Law School's use of race in admissions, consistent with Justice Powell's opinion in Bakke, only pays " '[s]ome attention to numbers.' " Ante, at 23 (quoting Bakke, supra, at 323).

But the correlation between the percentage of the Law School's pool of applicants who are members of the three minority groups and the percentage of the admitted applicants who are members of these same groups is far too precise to be dismissed as merely the result of the school paying "some attention to [the] numbers." As the tables below show, from 1995 through 2000 the percentage of admitted applicants who were members of these minority groups closely tracked the percentage of individuals in the school's applicant pool who were from the same groups.

Table 1
Year Number of law school applicants Number of African-American applicants % of applicants who were African-American Number of applicants admitted by the law school Number of African-American applicants admitted % of
admitted applicants
who were African-American
1995 4147 404 9.7% 1130 106 9.4%
1996 3677 342 9.3% 1170 108 9.2%
1997 3429 320 9.3% 1218 101 8.3%
1998 3537 304 8.6% 1310 103 7.9%
1999 3400 247 7.3% 1280 91 7.1%
2000 3432 259 7.5% 1249 91 7.3%


Year Number of law school applicants Number of Hispanic applicants % of applicants who were Hispanic Number of applicants admitted by the law school Number of Hispanic applicants admitted % of
admitted applicants
who were Hispanic
1995 4147 213 5.1% 1130 56 5.0%
1996 3677 186 5.1% 1170 54 4.6%
1997 3429 163 4.8% 1218 47 3.9%
1998 3537 150 4.2% 1310 55 4.2%
1999 3400 152 4.5% 1280 48 3.8%
2000 3432 168 4.9% 1249 53 4.2%


Table 3
Year Number of law school applicants Number of Native
American applicants
% of applicants who were Native
Number of applicants admitted by the law school Number of Native
American applicants admitted
% of
admitted applicants
who were Native
1995 4147 45 1.1% 1130 14 1.2%
1996 3677 31 0.8% 1170 13 1.1%
1997 3429 37 1.1% 1218 19 1.8%
1998 3537 40 1.1% 1310 18 1.4%
1999 3400 25 0.7% 1280 `13 1.0%
2000 3432 35 10% 1249 14 1.1%

[-8-] For example, in 1995, when 9.7% of the applicant pool was African-American, 9.4% of the admitted class was African-American. By 2000, only 7.5% of the applicant pool was African-American, and 7.3% of the admitted class was African-American. This correlation is striking. Respondents themselves emphasize that the number of underrepresented minority students admitted to the Law School would be significantly smaller if the race of each applicant were not considered. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 223a; Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 6 (quoting App. to Pet. for Cert. of Bollinger et al. 299a). But, as the examples above illustrate, the measure of the decrease would differ dramatically among the groups. The tight correlation between the percentage of applicants and admittees of a given race, therefore, must result from careful race based planning by the Law School. *It suggests a formula for admission based on the aspirational assumption that all applicants are equally qualified academically, and therefore that the proportion of each group admitted should be the same as the proportion of that group in the applicant pool.* See Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 43, n. 70 (discussing admissions officers' use of "periodic reports" to track "the racial composition of the developing class").


* Not an "assumption" that "all applicants are equally qualified academically," but that the range of ability in each of the three groups is similar. Rather than "aspirational," the assumption may be political, that the distribution of favors by a state university to racial/ethnic groups is easier to defend if the groups receive what appear to be equal shares.

Chief Justice Rehnquist's evidence of the close correlation, for black, Hispanic and Native Americans, between each group's percentage of total applicants and its percentage of total admittees, notwithstanding the group differences in range of individual ability, raises grave questions concerning the School's honesty, its actual goals, and the seriousness of the Court's scrutiny. This evidence and its implications are not examined or refuted in Justice O'Connor's Opinion.

Not only do respondents fail to explain this phenomenon, they attempt to obscure it. See id., at 32, n. 50 ("The Law School's minority enrollment percentages ... diverged from the percentages in the applicant pool by as much as 17.7% from 1995-2000"). But the divergence between the percentages of underrepresented minorities in the applicant pool and in the enrolled classes is not the only relevant comparison. In fact, it may not be the most relevant comparison. The Law School cannot precisely control which of its admitted applicants decide to attend the university. But it can and, as the numbers demonstrate, [-9-] clearly does employ racial preferences in extending offers of admission. Indeed, the ostensibly flexible nature of the Law School's admissions program that the Court finds appealing, see ante, at 24-26, appears to be, in practice, a carefully managed program designed to ensure proportionate representation of applicants from selected minority groups.

I do not believe that the Constitution gives the Law School such free rein in the use of race. The Law School has offered no explanation for its actual admissions practices and, unexplained, we are bound to conclude that the Law School has managed its admissions program, not to achieve a "critical mass," but to extend offers of admission to members of selected minority groups in proportion to their statistical representation in the applicant pool. But this is precisely the type of racial balancing that the Court itself calls "patently unconstitutional." Ante, at 17.

  Chief Justice Rehnquist's arguments are all directed against the claim that the School's racial admissions program is narrowly tailored. He does not challenge the Court's judgment that "student body diversity" is a compelling state interest. During the Oral Argument on this case, he seemed uninterested in pursuing that issue. As the Court deliberated, did Chief Justice Rehnquist hope that a strong case that Michigan's practice was inconsistent with its stated puroses would persuade a majority even larger than five, and postpone a judicial showdown on whether "diversity" or any other "compelling interest" warrants racial preference in university admissions?

Finally, I believe that the Law School's program fails strict scrutiny because it is devoid of any reasonably precise time limit on the Law School's use of race in admissions. We have emphasized that we will consider "the planned duration of the remedy" in determining whether a race-conscious program is constitutional. Fullilove, 448 U.S. 510 (Powell, J. concurring); see also United States v. Paradise, 480 U.S.149, 171 (1987) ("In determining whether race-conscious remedies are appropriate, we look to several factors, including the ... duration of the relief "). Our previous cases have required some limit on the duration of programs such as this because discrimination on the basis of race is invidious.

The Court suggests a possible 25-year limitation on the Law School's current program. See ante, at 30. Respondents, on the other hand, remain more ambiguous, explaining that "the Law School of course recognizes that race-conscious programs must have reasonable durational limits, and the Sixth Circuit properly found such a limit in [-10-] the Law School's resolve to cease considering race when genuine race-neutral alternatives become available." Brief for Respondents Bollinger et al. 32. These discussions of a time limit are the vaguest of assurances. In truth, they permit the Law School's use of racial preferences on a seemingly permanent basis. Thus, an important component of strict scrutiny--that a program be limited in time--is casually subverted.

The Court, in an unprecedented display of deference under our strict scrutiny analysis, upholds the Law School's program despite its obvious flaws. We have said that when it comes to the use of race, the connection between the ends and the means used to attain them must be precise. But here the flaw is deeper than that; it is not merely a question of "fit" between ends and means. Here the means actually used are forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

Footnote *

Indeed, during this 5-year time period, enrollment of Native American students dropped to as low as three such students. Any assertion that such a small group constituted a "critical mass" of Native Americans is simply absurd. [return to text]