The law was somewhat clearer in college admissions. As Justice O’Connor put it, “Since this Court’s splintered decision in Bakke, Justice Powell’s opinion announcing the judgment of the Court has served as the touchstone for constitutional analysis of race-conscious admissions policies. Public and private universities across the nation have modelled their own admissions programs on Justice Powell’s views on permissible race-conscious policies.” Still, there was great uncertainty about exactly which kinds of admissions programs were allowed by Powell’s reasoning in Bakke. Some critics also held that the precedent of Bakke should be over- turned or disregarded, and the Court should hold, instead, that all race- conscious programs are unconstitutional.
This issue came to a head in 2003, when the Court considered two very different kinds of admissions programs practiced at the University of Michigan under its president, Lee Bollinger (hence the names of the cases below). Michigan’s Law School admissions program was very much like the Harvard program that Powell endorsed, so that program was upheld. The admissions program at Michigan’s undergraduate College of Litera- ture, Science, and the Arts, in contrast, gave a specific number of points to all applicants in underrepresented minority groups. Critics claimed that this program amounted to a “quota” more like the Davis Medical School admissions program that Powell had struck down in Bakke, and the Court struck it down. The differences between these programs thus define the line between what is and is not permitted in college admissions today.
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