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In a case that may be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, a federal judge on Wednesday upheld the University of Michigan’s use of affirmative action in its admissions policy. U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan ruled against the school’s 1995-1998 policy, which was targeted in a class-action lawsuit by two white students who were denied admission. But he affirmed standards in place since last year, saying the university presented “solid evidence regarding the educational benefits that flow from a racially and ethnically diverse student body.” The 3-year-old case is being closely watched across the country because many colleges and universities consider race and ethnicity in admissions. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the University of Michigan could jeopardize those practices at public schools. The university argued that students need to be exposed to people of other races and ethnic groups to get a good education. The plaintiffs argued that race illegally becomes a decisive factor that discriminates against whites. The university’s policies were attacked in two lawsuits brought by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights, a conservative legal group that brought down affirmative action at the University of Texas law school in 1996. Duggan did not hold a trial, instead issuing summary judgments in the challenge to the school’s undergraduate admissions policies. The second lawsuit, against the university’s law school policies, is scheduled to go to trial in January before a different judge. The university has spent $4.3 million defending affirmative action, saying it has a right to use race, does so fairly and legally, and would lose color if race were ignored. Since beginning a large-scale push for diversity in 1987, the school doubled minority enrollment in the decade that followed. Of Michigan’s 38,000 undergraduate and graduate students this semester, about 13 percent are “underrepresented minorities” — 7.8 percent black, 4.3 percent Hispanic and six-tenths of a percent American Indian. As late as 1997, Michigan used a grid that sorted applicants by grades, test scores and race — a system targeted by the lawsuit. The school now grades applicants on a 150-point scale. Blacks, Hispanics or American Indians get 20 points for their race — equal to raising their grade-point average a full point on a 4-point scale. The Michigan lawsuits could lead to a further rollback of affirmative action in higher education — a follow-up to California’s Bakke case of 1978, in which the Supreme Court outlawed racial quotas but allowed consideration of race in university admissions. The Michigan undergraduate case appears ultimately headed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. If that court upholds affirmative action — contradicting the other appeals court — the Supreme Court may feel compelled to sort it all out. Just last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the University of Washington Law School acted legally when it considered race in its now-abandoned admissions policy. The school was sued by three people who said they were denied admission because they are white. The drive against affirmative action has accelerated in recent years, notably with the 1996 victory in Texas. The Texas law school, like Michigan, argued that race-conscious admissions foster diversity. But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that while schools can consider an applicant’s economic and social background — which can correlate with race or ethnicity — “race itself cannot be taken into account.” The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear the Texas case because the school had already decided to end affirmative action. Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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