These two cases further illustrate the complexity of the issue. Jennifer Gratz was denied admission to the University of Michigan’s undergraduate program in 1995, while in 1997 Barbara Grutter was denied admission to the university’s law school. Both women were white, and they claimed that the university’s admissions program discriminated against white students. The university used a point system for undergraduate admissions, assigning extra points to what it considered “under-represented” racial and ethnic minorities. Since it also assigned extra points to athletes, children of alumni, and men enrolling in the nursing school, the university argued, there was nothing out of the ordinary about adding points for race as well. As for the law school, there was no point system, but race was used as a determining factor because, the university maintained, it helped promote cross-racial understanding. Civil rights organizations, academicians, political leaders, and many others took sides. Former U.S. president Gerald R. Ford (a University of Michigan alumnus) spoke out in support of the university’s system in an op-ed piece in The New York Times in 1999.
The court voted 6-3 to strike down the undergraduate point system, but it upheld the law school’s less rigid program in a 5-4 vote. While the dual votes were not a total victory for affirmative action, they clearly showed what the courts would consider valid and what they would consider too broad a reach. More importantly, they showed that the U.S. Supreme Court, however conservative, was not ready to abolish affirmative action arbitrarily.