When she applied to attend the University of Michigan Law School, Barbara Grutter was anything but a typical applicant.
As a mother of two in her 40s running her own healthcare consulting business, she had considerably more life experience than the average 22-year-old. In addition, there was a respectable 3.8 undergraduate grade-point average and a score of 161 on the law- school aptitude test, placing her in the 86th percentile nationally.
But unknown to Ms. Grutter, she possessed one trait that would significantly undercut her candidacy: the color of her skin.
As one of the most selective law schools in the nation, the University of Michigan maintains an …