A Blow To Affirmative Action

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Admission standards at the University of Michigan law school have been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge on the grounds that race should not be a factor in judging applicants.

In a case that could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman granted the plaintiff's request for an injunction and ordered the law school to stop using race as a consideration.

"There is no question about the long and tragic history of race discrimination in this country," Friedman wrote in his ruling.

However, he added that the law school's justification for using race to assemble a racially diverse student population is not a compelling state interest. Even if it was in the state interest, the law school has not narrowly tailored its use of race to achieve that interest, the judge said.

Kirk Kolbo, co-counsel for the plaintiff, told CBS Radio News that his legal team is pleased by the judge's decision, calling it an "important step forward."

"We're coming to the end of using race to make admissions decisions or hiring decisions," he said.

A university spokeswoman said she was waiting to read the ruling before commenting on it.

Friedman heard more than 64 hours of testimony. His job was to determine whether affirmative action is needed to offset biases that minority students face, whether the law school uses a double standard to admit minorities, and to what extent Michigan uses race when making admissions decisions.

At the end of last year, another federal judge ruled the university's undergraduate admissions policy, which also takes race into account, is constitutional. The undergraduate case is likely headed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Both suits could wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The suits were brought by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights. The law school case was brought on behalf of Barbara Grutter, a white who claimed that she was denied admission in 1997 because less-qualified minorities get preferential treatment.

The center, a conservative legal group, brought down affirmative action at the University of Texas law school in 1996. The Texas school, like Michigan, argued that race-conscious admissions foster diversity. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that while schools can consider an applicant's economic and social background, race cannot be taken into account.

The Supreme Court chose not to hear the Texas case, because the school had already decided to end affirmative action.

Grutter claimed the school's admission policies are unconstitutional. As a white applicant, she said the law school disciminated against her while accepting minority students with lower test scores and grade-point averages.

University attorney John Payton has said the law school has one set of standards and a policy that is compliant with California's Bakke case of 1978, in which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed consideration of race in university admissions but outlawed racial quotas.

In December, U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan affirmed Michigan's undergraduate admissions standards in place since 1999 on the grounds that they are a constitutional way to achieve diversity.

In a 1997 lawsuit filed on behalf of two white students denied admission to the school, the CIR argued that the school's use of race was discriminatory.

In his ruling late last year, Duggan declared as unconstitutional the school's grid-based admissions policy from 1995 through 1998, concluding that it represented an impermissible, quota-like use of race in "reserving" spots for underrepresented minorities.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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