Recent Decisions-Supreme Court

Article excerpt

Final Decision

DOCKET NO.: 02-516

NAME: Gratz v. Bollinger

DATE: June 23, 2003

Caucasian students who were denied admission to the University of Michigan sued claiming that the school's use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions was unconstitutional. The university's admissions system used a point system to determine whether an applicant received an offer of admission. Applicants from underrepresented racial or ethnic minority groups were automatically awarded 20 points out of 100 needed for admission. The plaintiffs were denied admission, even though they were considered qualified. The plaintiff's claimed that the admission policy violated the Equal Protection Clause, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42 U.S.C. [sec] 1981. Held: The Supreme Court found that the university's admission policy was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court upheld the notion that seeking diversity can constitute a compelling state interest (as explained in the companion case of Grutier v. Bollinger, 123 S.Ct. 2325 (2003)), but in the present case the university's admissions policy was not narrowly tailored to achieve this interest. The university's point system rewarded applicants from underrepresented classes simply on the basis of their racial background. This type of system makes one's race a decisive factor as opposed to one of many factors which are examined for the purpose of admission. Gratz v. Bollinger, 123 S.Ct. 2411 (2003).

DOCKET NO.: 02-516

NAME: Grutter v. Bollinger

DATE: June 23, 2003

Caucasian student denied admission to the University of Michigan Law School filed suit claiming that the school had discriminated against her on the basis of her race. The law school considered a wide variety of factors when considering an application. Among the items the law school considered in admitting a student was how the applicant would add to the diversity of the law school class. The plaintiff claimed that this use of race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 42 U.S.C. [sec] 1981. Held: The Supreme Court found the law school's admission policy constitutional. The use of race in the law school's admissions policy was narrowly tailored to establish diversity. Student body diversity is a compelling state interest in the context of university admissions. Furthermore, unlike in Gratz v. Bollinger, 123 S.Ct. 2411 (2003), the use of race was merely a potential plus factor, not a decisive factor, in each applicant's file. Grutier v. Bollinger, 123 S.Ct. 2325 (2003).

Summary Actions

DOCKET NO.: 01-1865

NAME: Oden v. Northern Marianas College

DATE: June 16, 2003

College student sued college under Title IX for college 's alleged failure to discipline an instructor whom the student claimed had sexually harassed her. The student filed a complaint with the school after enduring two months of sexual harassment from a college professor. The college assisted the student in preparing her case for presentation before the college's Committee on Sexual Harassment. The committee found that the professor was guilty of sexually harassing a student, although the conduct of the professor did not rise to a level which warranted dismissal. The committee recommended that disciplinary action be taken against the professor and the college administration agreed with this finding.

The student filed a Title IX action against the school claiming that its actions were insufficient to redress her complaint. The student claimed that the time at which the hearing was held (one year after the complaint was initially filed), as well as the failure to dismiss the professor from his employment, rose to the level of deliberate indifference to the student's complaint.

The court of appeals held that the college's response to the student's complaint did not rise to the level of deliberate indifference, the standard by which Title IX actions are gauged. The court found that the college's actions were anything but indifferent. Upon learning of the sexual harassment, the college provided the student with counseling, assisted her in preparing her case, instructed the accused professor to have no contact with the student, conducted a hearing, and imposed a number of disciplinary actions against the offending professor. Held: Judgment vacated, and case remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for further consideration in light of Nguy en v. United States, 123 S. Ct. 2130 (2003). Oden v. Northern Marianas College, 284 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2002), vacated by, 123 S.Ct. 2600 (2003).

Review Denied

Decisions without published opinions in the lower court:

DOCKET NO.: 02-1325

NAME: Kelly v. Medical College of Ohio

DATE: May 19, 2003

CITATION: cert, denied, 123 S.Ct. 2076 (2003)

Decisions with written opinions in the Court of Appeals:

DOCKET NO.: 02-1054

NAME: Scott v. Pasadena Unified School District

DATE: May 19, 2003

Parents sued the Pasadena Unified School District for its admissions policies to three voluntary schools. The parents claimed that the district's use of race and gender as some of the criteria during an admission lottery violated state and federal constitutional norms. The district uses weighted lotteries in its magnet school admissions process in order to improve the fairness of voluntary pupil assignments and to maintain student body diversity. This lottery system was to be used only in the event that a particular magnet school received more applications than it had space available. The district weighed gender, race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language, and special needs as factors within the lottery process for admission to that school. These factors were only to be used when necessary to create an integrated setting. Held: Court of appeals found that there was no genuine threat to any of the plaintiff's of adverse treatment under the district's admission program. The court went on to find that because the plaintiffs could not establish any specific harm likely to befall any of them, they lacked standing to bring the constitutional challenge. The plaintiffs failed to show that, even if there was an imminent threat, that the district would enforce the racial or gender classifications, or that these classifications would serve as a barrier to the plaintiffs' applications to the magnet school of their choice. Scott v. Pasadena Unified Sch. Dist., 306 F.3d 646 (9th Cir. 2002), cert, denied, 123 S.Ct. 2071 (2003).

DOCKET NOS.: 02-1328

NAME: Warren Hill Regional Board of Education v. Sypniewski

DATE: May 19, 2003

Students brought suit challenging the school board's racial harassment policy and dress code as violating their free speech rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In response to growing racial tensions at a high school, the school board passed a dress code and a racial harassment policy. The issue came to a head when a student was expelled under these two policies for wearing a shirt that bore the word "redneck." The school claimed that this t-shirt and the word "redneck" had come to connote racial intolerance and was associated with a group of troublemakers known as the "hicks," and thus was directly associated with the ongoing racial harassment at the school. Held: Court of Appeals held that the school's policies, although not unconstitutional, were over broad as applied to the student. The First Amendment does not stop at the school house door, but its protections within the school house do not mirror those outside. For a school to limit otherwise protected expression, it must show a specific and significant fear of disruption, not merely a remote apprehension of disturbance. Furthermore, the speech being regulated must be more than simply similar to speech involved in past disturbances. In this case the term redneck was not shown to be a factor that had in the past caused tension, and thus fell under First Amendment protection. Warren Hill Regional Bd. of Educ. v. Sypniewski, 307 F.3d 243 (3rd Cir. 2002), cert, denied, 123 S.Ct. 2077 (2003).

DOCKET NO.: 02-1333

NAME: Waxman v. Roslyn Union Free School District

DATE: May 19, 2003

School district sought to extend student's suspension and keep him in homebound instruction pending a complete evaluation by a psychiatrist and a special education committee. The student sought to be removed from homebound instruction pending proceedings to determine whether the student is disabled. Under federal and state education laws, students are to remain in their current educational placements pending proceedings regarding whether they are considered disabled. Held: New York appellate court found sufficient evidence to keep the student in homebound instruction. The court found that the evidence presented by the district clearly demonstrated that permitting the student to return to regular classroom instruction was substantially likely to result in injury to himself and others. Waxman v. Roslyn Union Free Sch. Dist., 740 N.Y.S.2d 451 (A.D. 2 Dept. 2002), cert, denied, 123 S.Ct. 2077 (2003).

DOCKET NO.: 02-1461

NAME: Sheridan v. Trustees of Columbia University

DATE: June 2, 2003

Student who had completed his degree sued university after it refused to forward his transcripts to graduate schools due to unpaid tuition bills. Student argued that the university's refusal to forward his transcript in effect revoked his degree in violation of the school's charter and state law. Held: New York appellate court found that the school's actions did not revoke student's degree. While the school's policy may compromise the student's ability to apply to graduate school, it does not revoke the student's certification that he possesses all of the knowledge and skills represented by the degree. Sheridan v. Trustees of Columbia U., 745 N.Y.S.2d 18 (A.D. 1 Dept. 2002), cert, denied, 123 S.Ct. 2253 (2003).

This review reports all of the Supreme Court activity in education law reported by the BNA Supreme Court Review published during the months of May 1st, 2003-June 30th, 2003.