University of Michigan's Admissions Policy Rejected

By Lords, Erik | Black Issues in Higher Education, April 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

University of Michigan's Admissions Policy Rejected


Lords, Erik, Black Issues in Higher Education


Judge rules diversity is not a compelling state interest

Many national leaders expressed shock and disappointment late last month after a U.S. District Judge in Detroit ruled that the University of Michigan's race-conscious law school admissions policy is unconstitutional. Lawyers for the University of Michigan and a group of minority students who were allowed to intervene as parties in the case are appealing the decision.

Judge Bernard Friedman's 90-page opinion surprised many leaders and legal experts because it contradicted another district judge, who in the same federal building just three months earlier had ruled that the University of Michigan's undergraduate school could continue using race as a factor in admissions and that the policy was lawful. Both cases will likely end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, legal experts say.

Friedman, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1988 by former President Ronald Reagan, ruled that diversity is not a compelling state interest and that if it was a state interest, Michigan's admissions system was not narrowly tailored. Also, in the 90-page opinion, he ruled that there was no evidence of past or present discrimination by the law school to justify the use of race as a factor in admissions. He rejected the university's argument that race was simply one of many factors used in admissions and said the law school admissions policy places too much emphasis on race. Doing so creates the functional equivalent of a quota system, Friedman said.

"The evidence indisputably demonstrates that the law school places a very heavy emphasis on an applicant's race in deciding whether to accept or reject," Friedman wrote. "The evidence shows that race is not, as defendants have argued, merely one factor which is considered among many others in the admissions process."

Miranda Massie, an attorney for the intervening students, called Friedman's ruling "intellectually dishonest and wildly ideological," saying that he distorted the evidence presented at the 15-day trial about segregation and discrimination in education. "It's an opinion for resegregation that will intensify existing unfairness and inequality for Black people and other minorities seeking access to higher education," Massie told the Detroit Free Press. "He engaged the evidence only enough to distort it so that it could be used to support his pre-existing views."

Friedman rejected the intervenors' arguments that race is necessary to compensate for past discrimination and wrote that such a rationale ignores a person's individual history. There has been a "long and tragic history of race discrimination in this country," Friedman wrote, but that does not justify using race in the law school's admissions.

He also disagreed with the way most of the nation's selective colleges have interpreted the landmark 1978 U.S. Supreme Court decision, University of California Regents v. Bakke. That case ruled that racial quotas were unlawful, but Justice Lewis Powell, writing only for himself, stated that the use of race was a "plus factor" to achieve racial diversity. …

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