Gratz v. Bollinger

Following is the case brief for Gratz v. Bollinger, United States Supreme Court, (2003)

Case summary for Gratz v. Bollinger:

  • Two Caucasians challenged the University of Michigan’s admissions policy after being denied entry into the undergraduate program, claiming the procedure violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause.
  • The Procedure automatically added 20 points onto the application of a minority candidate.
  • The lower court granted an injunction, but the federal appeals court reversed and Gratz and Hamacher appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
  • The Court held the use of race in the admissions process was narrowly tailored to achieve its compelling interest of diversity and as a result, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Gratz v. Bollinger Case Brief

Statement of the facts:

After being denied entry into the University of Michigan’s undergraduate College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Gratz and Hamacher, two Caucasians, filed suit against one of the University’s advisors in federal district court. Both plaintiffs claimed that the University’s current admission policy violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause. The policy ranked applicants based on several factors such as standardized testing scores and academic achievements, but there was an additional 20 points added to an applicant belonging to an underrepresented minority. The majority of students were admitted based on the point scale alone. At trial, the court found that the University of Michigan’s policy was discriminatory treatment and issued an injunction. The University appealed to the court of appeals.

Procedural History:

The court of appeals denied the injunction and reversed the decision of the lower court. Grutz and Hamacher petitioned to the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A school’s admission procedure that, without additional individual consideration, gives automatic preference to minority students on the basis of race is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Issue and Holding:

Whether racial preference in a University’s admission process violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment? Yes.


The Court reversed the decision of the federal court of appeals.


  • The use of race in the admission process is not narrowly tailored to achieve diversity and as a result, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The admission’s policy set in place by the University giving candidates an extra 20 points based on their race violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. For the University to use race as a justification for automatically assigning points to each minority applicant, it must be narrowly-tailored to achieve its stated purpose, promoting a diverse student body.

Here, the applicants are not afforded individualized review. The extra 20 points ultimately guarantees admission to minimally qualified applicants. As a result, it is apparent that race is elevated as the determining factor in the admissions process. In addition, other factors considered, like extracurricular activities are only awarded five points, a small measure compared to the 20 points allotted for being a minority

Bollinger claims the policy is useful for managing the volume of applications received, however, the program is capable of providing individualized consideration and although the volume of applicants may be a challenge, it does not mean an unconstitutional procedure should be put in place to alleviate the challenge.

Concurring or Dissenting opinions:

Concurring (O’Connor):

This present case is significantly distinguishable from the decision of Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) This is because the school used race as a factor to be considered, where equal weight was given to several factors, not an automatic 20 points.

Dissenting (Ginsburg):

University admission procedures set in place to promote equality should not be analyzed under strict scrutiny. Since the University’s policies are designed to remedy a history of racial discrimination in higher education, a greater deference should be extended to the University’s admission procedures.


Gratz v. Bollinger helped the Court outline that affirmative action programs are only constitutional if they consider race as a factor in an individualized evaluation and the stated goal is to achieve class diversity. Affirmative action procedures are subject to strict scrutiny.

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