From Bakke to Fisher, The Evolution of Affirmative Action Matters

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court will resume affirmative action on Monday – a second time in six years – but with a conservative majority now generally expecting to stop using race for college admission.

This would be a major change for the court that first advocated an affirmative action policy in receptions in 1978. Earlier affirmative action cases are known under one name: Bakke, Grutter, Gratz, and Fisher.

During Monday’s arguments on North Carolina and Harvard cases, these names may be used as abbreviations for the cases they represent. But there are real people behind them.

A look at what they have done since the Supreme Court made their names synonymous with the issue of race in higher education:

Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 1978

Allan Bakke was in his 30s when he applied for medical school at the University of California, Davis. Twice rejected, Bakke sued. He said the school’s decision to reserve 16 seats for minority students in a class of 100 discriminated against him as a white man. The Supreme Court agreed and ordered him to be admitted. However, the court allowed the use of race as an admission factor if this was part of the applicant’s overall assessment. Bakke graduated in 1982 and worked for years as an anesthesiologist in Minnesota. Since her case, she has stayed out of the spotlight.

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Grutter v. Bollinger, 2003

Barbara Grutter was a Michigan resident who applied to the University of Michigan Law School in 1996. The grutter, which is white, had a grade point average of 3.8, but was rejected. She pleaded for discrimination, arguing that school policy gave some minority students a much better chance of being accepted. The Supreme Court ruled in decision 5-4 that the law school’s enrollment policy, which considered race as one of the enrollment factors, was not illegal. The decision allowed the breed to continue to be used in receptions.

Bollinger in this case was Lee Bollinger, who was sued as the then president of the university. Bollinger, now president of Columbia University, recently told reporters that he was “worried about the outcome” of current affairs.

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Gratz v. Bollinger, 2003

Grutter’s companion case concerned Jennifer Gratz, a white woman who had been denied admission to an undergraduate degree in Michigan. Unlike Grutter, Gratz won the case. The Supreme Court agreed that the school’s undergraduate admission system was flawed because it relied too heavily on race.

Frustrated that the affirmative action had survived anyway, Gratz played a key role in the passage of Michigan’s Proposition 2, which ended racial preference in admission to state universities. The ban survived its own trip to the Supreme Court. Gratz and her husband opened a microbrewery in Florida.

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Fisher v. University of Texas, 2013 and 2016

Abigail Fisher is famous twice for the Supreme Court. Fisher, who is white, was sued after he was dismissed in 2008 from the University of Texas at Austin. A cellist, who also participated in math competitions and worked as a volunteer, graduated shyly, not exceeding the top 10% in her class. She argued that the university’s policy discriminated against her on the basis of race, in breach of the Constitution.

Her first case in the Supreme Court was ambiguous. Three years later, when her case returned to court, the judges in a narrow ruling upheld the school’s use of affirmative action. However, only seven judges ruled the case as Judge Antonin Scalia had died and Judge Elena Kagan was acquitted.

Fisher, who calls herself an “introverted person,” graduated from Louisiana State University in 2012 and worked in finance but did not give up on affirmative action. Now in his 30s, he is one of the leaders of the Students for Fair Admissions, the group that brought UNC and Harvard cases to the Supreme Court. The group boss is Edward Blum, a former stockbroker who also financially supported the original Fisher case and other race-based Supreme Court cases.

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