Grutter v. Bollinger: The Case Study

Facts of the Case

Barbara Grutter desired to join the University of Michigan’s prestigious law school after opting to change her profession in her forties after bringing up a family. However, she was denied the opportunity due to the university’s racial admissions policies it had adopted in an attempt to shore up minority enrollment. She felt aggrieved and filed a suit in the federal Court to dispute the university’s use of race to deny her the opportunity for being white. She thought that the university infringed upon her equal protection rights.

Procedural History

Cases relating to affirmative action in the united states commenced in diversity 1938 when the Supreme Court held that Missouri had transgressed a black law school applicant’s right to equal protection of the law. Similar pronouncements have been made in different cases, such as in 1950. In 1954, the case of Brown v. Board of Education marked a starting point for dismantling racial segregation in elementary and secondary education, colleges, and universities. By 1965 there were few African American students in the country’s college campuses and at select New England colleges (Dhingra & Scribner, 2020). Within the same period, more educational institutions adopted affirmative action programs, including recruiting minority applicants. Despite the decision being challenged in 1978, the Court provided a desirable approval under the historic Bakke decision.

In the 1990s, there was a huge backlash against affirmative action. Consequently, a case was filed in 1996 in a federal appeals court barred any reference to race in university admissions. The Supreme Court declined to hear that case and another filed by civil rights groups seeking to nullify the measure after Proposition 209 was approved in California (Dhingra & Scribner, 2020). Besides the university admissions policies, the Court from the 1980s had evaluated racial preferences in different areas, such as government contracting, employment, and congressional and legislative redistricting.


The Court sought to settle whether diversity is a clear interest to excuse the narrowly adapted use of race when selecting applicants for admission to public universities.

The decision by the Court

In a narrow 5-4 vote, the Court ruled in favor of the institutions, effectively pardoning the narrowly tailored use of race when selecting applicants for admission to public universities.

Reasoning and Rule of Law Applied by the Court

By applying the equal protection clause or Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the majority vote settled that race is used in a “narrowly tailored” and “holistic” fashion within an operation of highly individualized consultations. They believed that race was just applied as a “‘plus’ in a personal applicant’s record.

Checks and Balances for Race-Conscious School Admission Programs

In the case of Grutter v. Bollinger and the more recent Fisher v. the University of Texas at Austin, the Court held that a school’s process to admission ought to incorporate an extensive array of capabilities and elements of which race could be one (Baum, 2021). The Court developed several checks and balances to bolster race-conscious school admission programs:

  1. An institution must perform an internal review to identify the educational objectives for a diverse student body based on research and the involvement of pivotal stakeholders.
  2. The developed admissions plan should seek to attain the enumerated educational benefits.
  3. Proper research should be conducted and memorized to assess whether race-neutral schemes help to meet the objectives.
  4. If the race-neutral strategies are inadequate, an institution must formulate a narrowly-tailored holistic, race-conscious admissions plan to win narrowly tailored.


Baum, L. (2021). The Supreme Court. CQ Press.

Dhingra, N., & Scribner, C. (2020). An Aristotelian Defense of Affirmative Action: Alasdair MacIntyre, Sandra Day O’Connor and Grutter v. Bollinger. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 55(1), 83–98. Web.

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LawBirdie. "Grutter v. Bollinger: The Case Study." November 16, 2023.