The University of Michigan Law School concluded that a diverse student body was a worthy goal that benefited all students. It, therefore, decided to institute a plan that sought to grant admission to a “critical mass” of qualified minority students. This meant that some white students would be denied admission even though they had higher grades and test scores. Race (for African-Americans) or ethnicity (for Hispanics and Native Americans) was thus one factor that was considered in evaluating candidates for admission, but it was not decisive and was by no means the only factor considered. The Law School’s admissions committee considered many other factors: an applicant’s LSAT score, undergraduate GPA, enthusiasm of recommenders, quality of the undergraduate institution, quality of the essay written for admission, residency, leadership and work experience, unique talents or interests, and difficulty of undergraduate course selection. In addition, students were sometimes admitted if there was a combination of poor performance on standardized tests but consistently outstanding academic records. No seats in the entering law school class were reserved or set aside for minority students. The stated goal of the Law School’s admissions procedure was “to admit a group of students who individually and collectively are among the most capable students applying to American law schools in a given year.
In 1996, Barbara Grutter, a 43-year-old single mother, applied for admission to the University of Michigan Law School. Grutter was Caucasian and had a 3.8 undergraduate GPA and a score on the LSAT that placed her nationally in the 86th percentile. After several months of being placed on a “wait list,” she was notified that her application for admission had been denied. She then filed a class action suit in a U.S. District Court, claiming that she was denied admission because minority students were given preferential treatment. The District Court ruled for Grutter and concluded that “the university’s use of race as a factor in its admissions decisions was unconstitutional and a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” It enjoined the law school from continuing to use race in its admissions decisions. The law school appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which overturned the lower court’s judgment. This court reasoned that the law school had tailored its admissions procedure in compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1978 ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, which at the time was the controlling legal precedent on this issue in the nation. Grutter now appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.