FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 6/23/2003
For Further Information,
Contact Clyde E. Murphy
In two of the most significant civil rights cases of the last 25 years, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the importance of affirmative action in higher education. While rejecting the specific point system of the University of Michigan undergraduate admissions program, the Court adopted the precedent set in Bakke, allowing the consideration of race as one of many factors in admissions policies, and specifically acknowledged the importance of diversity in overcoming our nation’s history of discrimination.
The Court held in the case of the University of Michigan Law School admissions program, that the “Equal Projection Clause 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”. Adopting the holding of Bakke, Justice O’Connor’s majority opinion ensures that programs that use race as one of many factors in admissions are a constitutionally approved means for institutions of higher education to ensure a diverse student population. Justice O’Connor noted that, “Access to legal education (and thus the legal profession) must be inclusive of talented and qualified individuals of every race and ethnicity, so that all members of our heterogeneous society may participate in the educational institutions that provide the training and education necessary to succeed in America..”
“This decision comes at an important time in our history, in that it reaffirms the continuing importance of finding realistic and effective means of dealing with the continuing legacy and current problem of racial discrimination in the United States, at a time when many of our political leaders would ignore that history and its current manifestations”, stated Clyde E. Murphy, Executive Director of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “The Court’s decision recognizes that a truly diverse campus benefits all students, and that indeed, our country’s national security and economic success likewise benefits from recruiting men and women from diverse races, ethnicities and backgrounds,” he added.
Justice O’Connor’s opinion specifically rejects the notion that affirmative action programs are based on the premise that all members of a particular minority group think the same, and therefore serve to reinforce racial and ethnic stereotypes. Rather the Court affirms the position taken by the University of Michigan that “. . . when a critical mass of underrepresented minority students is present, racial stereotypes lose their force because nonminority students learn there is no “minority viewpoint” but rather a variety of viewpoints among minority students.”
While striking down the University of Michigan’s undergraduate program, the Court’s decision preserves affirmative action as a policy that is fair and inclusive, and diversity as a constitutionally permissible goal. In the coming months, it will become increasingly important for colleges and universities to use the rulings in these cases to maintain and improve their admissions policies in order to foster diversity in their student bodies, faculty and administration.
The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, through its 40-plus member law firms and staff lawyers, provides free legal services to challenge discrimination and other violations of civil rights in both the public and private sectors. For more information about the Chicago Lawyers' Committee, please contact Clyde E. Murphy, Executive Director, at 312-630-9744, or visit the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee website at www.clccrul.org.