Jennifer Gratz, CEO of XIV Foundation, speaks Monday in Washington, D.C., a day before the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the affirmative action ban involving the University of Michigan. (Andrew Burton / Getty Images)
Washington— It was 16 years ago Monday that Southgate Anderson High School graduate Jennifer Gratz filed a class-action suit against the University of Michigan challenging its use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions she argued kept her out of the prestigious school and ended her dream of becoming a doctor.
Gratz’s case, along with a challenge of U-M’s law school admissions by Barbara Grutter, would ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court and result in decisions in 2003 that would define affirmative action for public university admissions nationwide. Gratz won her case — U-M’s undergraduate system that awarded extra points to racial minorities was struck down — but she didn’t feel victorious because the court also upheld the limited use of race preferences in Grutter’s case.
Gratz heads back to the Supreme Court today, this time hoping the justices will uphold Michigan’s state constitutional ban on race preferences and strike down affirmative action once and for all.
“I think it’s unfortunate on Oct. 15, 2013 ... we are still fighting for every individual’s right to be treated equally and without regard to their race,” Gratz said Monday.
In the days following the 2003 U-M Supreme Court decisions, Gratz found guidance in the Grutter opinion that, while upholding affirmative action, encouraged state universities to develop race-neutral policies.
“We took this as a command to work harder and that is why I championed and we took the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative directly to voters,” Gratz said Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Her ballot initiative to ban race, gender and ethnic preferences in university admissions and government contracting was approved by 58 percent of Michigan voters in November 2006, effectively barring U-M from using affirmative action measures the court said were constitutionally permissible.
Lawyers will present arguments before the court today on whether Michigan violated the Equal Protection Clause by passing the amendment to prohibit race and gender discrimination in university admissions.
If the court upholds the Michigan law, Gratz intends to continue the movement in others states to ban affirmative action preferences. Already eight states have some ban on affirmative action in university admissions, and Gratz sees extending the work to Ohio, Missouri and Utah, she said.
Gratz and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who also spoke at the press club Monday, said their effort will prevail and argue treating people equally cannot be discriminatory.
“Equal treatment under the Michigan Constitution is consistent with equal protection under the federal constitution,” Schuette said.