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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Supreme Court Partially Reverses Undergrad Affirmative Action

Aired June 23, 2003 - 10:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: More now on a breaking story we're following for you from Washington, D.C., the nation's capital. The U.S. Supreme Court votes 5-4 in favor of upholding the University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions program with its law school, but strikes down that university's program of its undergrads.
Let's bring in now Bob Franken, who's at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court with more on today's decisions.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Folks, Fredricka, if there was any hope of clearing up the confusion over affirmative action that's existed even since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it won't happen.

What the court said is that in the law school case, it was a vague enough affirmative action program, saying the program adequately ensures that all factors may contribute to diversity, are meaningfully considered alongside race. It was vague enough that race could be a factor in determining who was admitted. But in the case of the undergraduate program, which had a specific point system, used to be too have a point system, which gave points to minorities when it came time to decide who was going to be admitted, that was too specific, because it talked about -- quote -- "the race of a particular black applicant," and that was a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Now, the net result of all that is this confused mishmash of decisions, where it's pretty much similar to the 1978 ruling, the Baki (ph) case, which said that you cannot have quotas, but you can have race as a consideration, which, of course, is going to be perplexing to just about everybody, and just about every attorney is going to read whatever he can into the decision. So it's a mixed bag. This has been a long awaited affirmative action decisions, affirmative action decisions plural, a hope that maybe finally the law would be cleared up. I don't think anybody is going to come away feeling that that happened -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Bob, I know at any moment, you're expecting some reaction from some of the parties involved who will be emerging from the courthouse there, but is there any way that you can perhaps describe for us, what was the best argument the University of Michigan was able to give? It had two different kinds of policies which they thought would achieve the same type of objectives.

FRANKEN: Well, their argument merits so many arguments, and that is the diversity is an important national policy, that that was the prevailing reason that there should be a heavier point load given to minorities. There are some people who say that that's not the strongest argument, that another argument might be the matter of fairness to overcome past discrimination. The point system, the university argued, was a way of avoiding quotas, that it was only part of a system that gave credit, for instance, to people whose parents had gone to the school, the so-called legacy points, athletics, et cetera.

The court is saying when it's that race specific, it amounts to a quota. And for further evidence, turn to the law school case, where there was nothing that specific and the court says, sure, you can do that. Race can be factor, but you can't do it in an improper way.

Bob Franken, we're going to give you a moment to do some more reporting and approach those who might be emerging from the U.S. Supreme court following this historic decision now.

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