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Bush praises court for recognizing 'value of diversity'

By Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau

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The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the University of Michigan's use of race as a factor in law school admissions but rules against a point system factoring race in undergraduate admissions. CNN's Bob Franken reports. (June 23)
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• Law school case majority opinion Grutter v. Bollinger  (FindLaw)external link
Law school case dissent  (FindLaw)external link
• U. of Michigan admissions case majority opinion: Gratz v. Bollinger  (FindLaw)external link
• Brief for the United States (Grutter v. Bollinger)  From FindLaw (PDF)
• Brief for the United States (Gratz v. Bollinger)  From FindLaw (PDF)external link
The Supreme Court struck down a point system used by the University of Michigan to give minorities preference in undergraduate admissions. The court, however, approved a separate program used by the University of Michigan's law school that gives race less prominence in the admissions decision-making process.

The Supreme Court said racial quotas are unconstitutional, but left room for the nation's public universities -- and by extension other public and private institutions -- to seek subtler ways to take race into account. Analysts say the rulings mean that race-conscious policies in place that do not use a quota plan such as a point system will probably remain in place.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Reacting to the Supreme Court's divided rulings on affirmative action, President Bush on Monday applauded the high court "for recognizing the value of diversity on our nation's campuses."

The praise came even though Bush did not get everything he wanted from the court decisions.

"Diversity is one of America's greatest strengths," Bush said in a statement. "Today's decisions seek a careful balance between the goal of campus diversity and the fundamental principle of equal treatment under the law."

The court Monday ruled that the University of Michigan may give preferential treatment to minorities in the law school admission process, but also ruled against an undergraduate admission policy that gave extra "points" to minority applicants. (Full story)

Five months ago, Bush called the University of Michigan's affirmative action program "fundamentally flawed" and "unconstitutional." He argued that while achieving diversity is important, for this specific case the admissions policy was based on quotas, a policy the president argues is wrong.

Monday, he said, "My administration will continue to promote policies that expand educational opportunities for Americans from all racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. There are innovative and proven ways for colleges and universities to reflect our diversity without using racial quotas. The court has made clear that colleges and universities must engage in a serious, good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives.

"I agree that we must look first to these race-neutral approaches to make campuses more welcoming for all students. Race is a reality in American life. Yet like the court, I look forward to the day when America will truly be a color-blind society. My administration will continue to work toward this important goal."

The White House's position reflects the highly political nature of affirmative action. (Full story)

On January 16, 2003 the White House filed a friend of the court brief supporting the students' cases against the University of Michigan.

One day earlier, Bush said, "At their core, the Michigan policies amount to a quota system that unfairly rewards or penalizes prospective students, based solely on their race."

Bush had numerous meetings with advisors and top aides right up until the eve of the deadline for filing the amicus brief before ultimately deciding to throw the weight of the White House into the most important affirmative action case facing Americans in a generation.

Bush's position was considered a political compromise. Conservative Republicans and Solicitor General Ted Olson had been pushing the president to take a hard line against racial preferences -- to say that using race is never justifiable, and is even unconstitutional, in determining whether a student is admitted to a public university.

But some of Bush's political advisors were concerned that such a rigid stand would turn away minority voters, particularly Hispanics, whom the White House is courting for a Bush 2004 presidential bid.

So ultimately Bush took the middle road, narrowly focusing on the University of Michigan cases and not addressing the broader legal question -- whether there are any circumstances in which it is appropriate or constitutional to use race as a factor in admissions.

One U.S. official who has said there are some circumstances when race can be used as a factor, among others, is one of the administration's highest-ranking African-American officials, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a former provost of Stanford University.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, also African-American, calls himself a "strong proponent" of affirmative action, and has said race should play a role in university admissions.

When pressed in January as to why Bush hasn't taken a stand on the broader issue, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that "the president did not want to constitutionally proscribe diversity one way or another except for the fact that it cannot and should not, in the presidents' judgment, be done through quotas."

Bush took a similar stand when he was governor of Texas, forbidding racial preferences. Instead he promoted a policy he calls "affirmative access," which grants admissions to state colleges for the top 10 percent of all of Texas high school students.

Sunday, on the eve of the Supreme Court's decision, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson held a forum in Chicago with Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Sen. John Kerry, and Al Sharpton, who criticized the president for his views on affirmative action.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle has pointed out in the past that Bush benefited from Yale University's admissions policy of favoring children of alumni. President Bush's father and grandfather attended Yale.

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