The Michigan Affirmative Action Cases
Barbara A. Perry
In its controversial Bakke decision of 1978, the Supreme Court upheld racial and ethnic diversity in university admissions—but it was not to be the last word on the matter. When Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter challenged the University of Michigan's admission policies because they were passed over in favor of ostensibly less-qualified minority applicants, the Court was once again compelled to address affirmative action.
Barbara Perry takes readers behind the scenes to tell the riveting story of how the two rejected applicants allied with conservative interest groups in an attempt to overturn affirmative action programs in higher education-and how in a 5-4 decision Justice Sandra Day O'Connor provided the decisive vote reaffirming Bakke. While the plaintiffs argued that their rights to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act had been violated, the Court in 2003 disagreed and upheld the constitutionality of affirmative action, citing the goal of diversity as a legitimate state interest but also making it clear that there were limits to that interest and the policies to implement it.
“An interesting and informative account of the University of Michigan affirmative action cases. Perry’s work offers an impartial appraisal of the arguments surrounding affirmative action.”
—Perspectives on Politics
“Perry artfully describes complex legal arguments, even providing an outline of the questions the Supreme Court had to consider. Perry’s description of oral arguments is especially fine, as she deftly weaves together the finer points of equal-protection jurisprudence and fascinating biographical details, about the justices, all in a dramatic narrative form.”
—Michigan Historical ReviewSee all reviews...
“In this riveting, easy-to-read book, the author comprehensively analyzes affirmative action law before and after the Bakke case, the denials of admission to Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter by Michigan, their alliance with conservative legal groups to use for discrimination, and the briefs and oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, she provides an in-depth look at the pivotal vote of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to uphold diversity as a legitimate governmental interest, while at the same time indicating that the power of government in pursuing diversity was not limitless. This well-written book is useful for anyone interested in civil rights and liberties or education law. Highly recommended.”
“Perry’s account is more than the tale of the journey of two Supreme Court cases and their aftermath. It is also the story of the profound shift in the justifications for affirmative action in college and university admissions. . . . Perry has written a superb addition to the Landmark Law Cases and American Society series. Few books so successfully limn the background, cast and characters, issues, decisions, and significance of a leading Supreme Court case as does this one. . . . [an otherwise] sterling and stirring depiction of a critical set of Supreme Court decisions. [This book] can serve as a supplement to civil liberties courses, as an integral part of a law and policy class, or as an edited reading for an advanced American Politics seminar. Even the expert will enjoy its unexpected factual gems.”
—Law and Politics Book Review
“An excellent book and a high-quality addition to the literature on affirmative action and higher education. Easy to read and comprehend, it will be required reading in my class—Legal Issues in Higher Education—and could well become a common addition to law school coursework and education and/or policy graduate programs across the nation.”
—M. Christopher Brown II, author of The Quest to Define College Desegregation
“A very good survey on the impact of the Michigan cases, one that should appeal to students and anyone interested in affirmative action.”
—Terry H. Anderson, author of The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative ActionSee fewer reviews...
Drawing on interviews with key figures in the litigation, Perry follows the twists and turns of the district and appellate cases, then reveals the inside story of how Justice O'Connor joined her liberal colleagues to uphold the use of race in university admissions and thereby establish an important new precedent. Perry provides a play-by-play account of the dramatic oral arguments before the Court, explains how the Court's decisions emerged, and reveals how Justice O'Connor's personal, professional, and judicial background brought her to that pivotal moment in legal history.
As Perry shows, the Supreme Court's decisions frustrated both conservatives and civil rights advocates, who continue to battle each other when anti-affirmative action initiatives appear on state ballots. Her compelling study helps us understand why affirmative action remains one of our most hotly contested issues.