Summaries of Previous Cases
Summaries of Previous Cases
AERA Filed Amicus Briefs in 2003 and 2006 Cases

In previous Supreme Court cases involving affirmative action in educational settings, AERA has submitted amicus briefs to advance social science research that highlights evidence of benefits of race-conscious policies. Synopses of the key issues in these cases and of the role of social science research in the decisions are provided below.

University of Michigan Cases 2003: Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger 

AERA filed amicus curiae briefs in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger, both relating to admissions policies at the University of Michigan. Gratz addressed the university’s undergraduate admissions, Grutter, its law school admissions. In Gratz, the Court struck down the university’s policy, which awarded points for various factors including race. The Court ruled that the policy did not take into account the circumstances of individual students and therefore violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

In Grutter, however, the Court upheld the law school admissions policy. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, in the majority opinion, that the law school had a compelling interest in achieving diversity in its student body, so long as the nature of that interest was narrowly tailored. The Court acknowledged the social science research highlighting the benefits of diversity in educational settings, and O’Connor cited AERA’s brief in her decision. Unlike the undergraduate admissions policy at issue in Gratz, the law school’s policy was not to award points for race but simply to consider it as one criterion among many. The Court ruled that the law school’s process took students’ individual circumstances into account and therefore was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

Learn more about the cases and the AERA briefs filed in Grutter and Gratz.

High School Cases 2006: Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District 1 and Meredith, et al., v. Jefferson County Board of Education

In an opinion covering two cases, the Court ruled that efforts to desegregate high schools in Seattle, Washington, and elementary schools in Jefferson County, Kentucky, were not permissible under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Both districts had instituted their policies to counteract the de facto segregation resulting from the racial composition of the neighborhoods tied to the schools.

In both cases, the lower courts had found that the policies in question met Grutter’s standard for being narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. The Supreme Court found that the policies did not serve a compelling interest, given that neither district was under a desegregation order at the time of implementation and that the policies generated only a minimal increase in diversity. Moreover, it ruled that the policy was not narrowly tailored and that the Court therefore “need not resolve the parties’ dispute over whether racial diversity in schools has a marked impact on test scores and other objective yardsticks or achieves intangible socialization benefits.”

Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissenting opinion noted the social science research showing the benefits of racially integrated schools—as well as the negative impacts of resegregation—on minority students. He argued that for these reasons the school districts’ desegregation policies served a compelling governmental interest.

Learn more about the cases and the AERA brief.