The Challenge to Affirmative Action — The Rise of the ‘Percentage Plan’
1978: The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke stipulates that race cannot be the sole arbiter in admissions decisions, but allows race to be one among many factors considered for the purpose of promoting diversity in higher education.
1995: The state of California adopts admissions policy SP-1, halting the use of race as a factor in admissions to the University of California.
1996: Proposition 209, which ends all forms of affirmative action in state employment, passes in California.
Meanwhile, the U.S. 5th Circuit rules against the University of Texas law school in Hopwood v. State of Texas. The ruling applies to the states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi and prohibits the use of race or ethnicity as an admissions criterion or in the recruitment, provision of financial assistance, or retention of college students.
1997: Four White applicants who had been denied admission to the University of Washington law school file a lawsuit challenging the use of race in the admissions process.
1998: Voters in Washington state pass Initiative 200, also known as I-200. Though different from California’s Proposition 209 in that I-200 is not a constitutional amendment, the University of Washington proceeds to eliminate the consideration of race, ethnicity and gender from its admissions processes.
Gov. George W. Bush of Texas signs into law the “Texas 10 Percent Plan,” guaranteeing high-school graduates in the top 10 percent of their classes admission to the state college or university of their choice.
1999: The University of California Board of Regents adopts a “4 percent plan,” making students in the top 4 percent of their high school graduating classes eligible for admission to a UC school.
2000: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs an executive order in November 1999, the One Florida Initiative, which eliminates race and ethnicity as admissions factors in the state university system. In place of affirmative action, the state adopts the “Talented 20 Program,” which guarantees college admission to students graduating in the top 20 percent of their classes and completing a 19-unit academic high-school curriculum.
2001: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rules the University of Georgia’s admissions policy unconstitutional because it gives a fixed preference to non-White applicants. In rendering its decision, the appellate court calls into question whether the Bakke ruling provided justification for the use of race in admissions decisions. California formally rescinds SP-1, even though the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996 had rendered it superfluous.
2002: In the case of Grutter v. Bollinger, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld the University of Michigan’s law school admissions policy. The appellate court, in its 5–4 decision, found diversity to be a compelling state interest and cited Bakke in stating that colleges may consider race in admissions. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In another pending suit, Gratz v. Bollinger, challenging the University of Michigan’s undergraduate admissions policy, the plaintiffs in the case filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review the case even though the appellate court had not yet ruled.
The high court agrees to review both cases in December 2002.
April 1, 2003: The U.S. Supreme Court expected to hear oral arguments in the Michigan cases. A ruling is expected by June.
Source: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
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