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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court gave a surprising and historic embrace to the concept of affirmative action in university admissions on Monday, dashing the hopes of the Bush administration and conservatives that racial preferences would come to an end. Writing for the 5-4 majority in Grutter v. Bollinger, No. 02-24, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said the court, in upholding the University of Michigan Law Schools’ race-conscious admissions policy, was endorsing Justice Lewis Powell Jr.’s view in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke 25 years ago that “student body diversity is a compelling state interest that can justify the use of race in university admissions.” But she set limits. Affirmative action programs must be narrowly tailored and of limited duration. “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today,” she said in announcing the decision from the bench. Minutes later, Chief Justice William Rehnquist read from his separate 6-3 majority opinion in Gratz v. Bollinger, No. 02-516, striking down Michigan’s undergraduate admissions program as “not narrowly tailored,” in part because it gives an automatic 20 points for minorities toward the 100 points needed for admission. Tony Mauro is Supreme Court correspondent for American Lawyer Media and The Recorder ‘s Washington, D.C., affiliate Legal Times . His e-mail address is [email protected]

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