June 25, 2003

Reviewing the June, 2003 Supreme Court Ruling on Affirmative Action

Grades:  6-8, 9-12

Subjects:  Civics, Current Events, Language Arts, Social Studies

Related New York Times Article
"Justices Back Affirmative Action by 5 to 4, By LINDA GREENHOUSE", June 25, 2003

Overview of Lesson Plan:: In this lesson, students learn about and discuss the implications of the June 23, 2003 Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action. They then research other cases, initiatives, propositions and acts regarding affirmative action in the United States in order to prepare for a series of debates.

1 hour

Students will:

  1. Analyze statements written by Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas regarding the June 23, 2003 affirmative action decisions on admissions at the University of Michigan.
  2. Examine the two University of Michigan cases heard by the Supreme Court and compare ruling and dissenting opinions on those cases by reading and discussing "Justices Back Affirmative Action by 5 to 4."
  3. Summarize the Supreme Court's decisions in small groups; debate the role of affirmative action in higher education; present opinions to the class.
  4. Research other cases, initiatives, propositions and acts regarding affirmative action in the United States; present this research in the form of a debate.



  1. WARM-UP/DO-NOW: Distribute one of the following quotations (typed on a half-sheet of paper) to each student upon entering the classroom:Students respond to the following prompt in their journals (written on the board prior to class): "Read the quotation on your slip of paper carefully, and rewrite or summarize it in your own words. What does this quotation mean to you? Who might have written or said it? To what do you think it refers? Do you agree or disagree with the quotation, and why?" Allow students several minutes to read and respond to the questions, and then ask them to share their responses with the class. Inform students that the first, third, and fourth quotations are from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's majority opinion from June 23, 2003, upholding the University of Michigan's law school admissions policy. The second quotation is from the dissenting opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas. You may wish to use this opportunity to review basic concepts regarding the Supreme Court, the Constitution, discrimination and affirmative action.
  2. As a class, read and discuss the article "Justices Back Affirmative Action by 5 to 4," focusing on the following questions:
    1. What decisions did the United States Supreme Court make with regards to education on June 23, 2003?
    2. Which university's policies and procedures regarding affirmative action were in question?
    3. By how many votes did they make each decision?
    4. Why did the Court reach different conclusions on two similar cases?
    5. Which justice(s) wrote in favor of affirmative action?
    6. Which justice(s) criticized affirmative action?
    7. What role did President Bush play in the discussion of affirmative action in education?
    8. How did Justice Clarence Thomas's statements on affirmative action differ from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's?
    9. Aside from race, what other criteria or factors are considered when admitting students to the University of Michigan?
    10. What statement did President Bush make upon hearing the Court's decision?
    11. How did this statement differ from the one he made in January, 2003, regarding the University of Michigan policies?
    12. What does the organization "People for the American Way" do?
    13. What is the "20-point formula" used by the University of Michigan's undergraduate program?
    14. Why does Justice O'Connor mention the Bakke case in her concluding remarks?
    15. What role does Justice O'Connor believe affirmative action will play 25 years from now?
  3. Divide students into groups of four to five. Allow groups ten minutes to summarize the majority and dissenting opinions of the Supreme Court justices in both June, 2003 decisions (the University of Michigan undergraduate decision and the University of Michigan law school decision).
    Next, have groups respond to the questions below (written on the board for easier student access). To foster more meaningful discussion, you may wish to read a question aloud and allow students to discuss their responses for five minutes with their group. When the five minutes are up, read the next question and allow five minutes for discussion. Continue this process until all questions have been discussed. Individual opinions and responses will vary, and each group will be responsible for reporting a summary of its opinions to the rest of the class.After students have completed their discussions, a "reporter" from each group should share the opinions of his or her group, going question by question and allowing all students to respond in a class discussion before moving on to the next question. For the first two questions, you may choose to list on the board the numbers of students who agreed and disagreed with the Court's decision. You may also list the various factors students suggest for consideration in admissions.
  4. WRAP-UP/HOMEWORK: Now that students have a general understanding of the Supreme Court's decisions regarding affirmative action at the University of Michigan, assign each student one of the following topics from the history of affirmative action in the United States, making sure to evenly distribute topics: For each topic, assign at least one student to write an overview of the case (including its outcome); one to write a paper in support of the initiative, act, or plaintiff; and one to write a paper refuting the initiative, act, or plaintiff. Students should present their findings in the form of a debate in a future class.


Students will be evaluated based on written responses to the initial assignment; participation in class and group discussions; and thoughtfully researched, written and presented information on assigned affirmative action topics.

preserved, admissions, endorsement, diversity, cultivate, legitimacy, citizenry, invalidated, undergraduate, blueprint, afoul, individualized, holistic, solitary, undermined, repudiated, unconstitutional, validity, precedent, provision, demeans, dissenting, proportionate, resolving, scrutiny, concurring, merits, plaintiffs, quota, derided, advocacy, neutral, analytical, rationale, indivisible, heterogeneous, tailored


  1. Investigate your school's admissions policies. What are the criteria required for admission? If you attend a public school, does your school or district have address or zoning requirements? If you attend a private school, what factors do your administrators consider when accepting students? Publish your findings in your school's paper.
  2. The term "colorblind" is used to describe a situation in which skin color or race would not have any bearing on the way one is perceived. Do you think this "colorblindness" was, is or ever will be possible? Why or why not? Write an editorial expressing your opinion on the notion of "colorblindness."
  3. Three critics of University of Michigan's affirmative action policies are President George Bush and Justices Clarence Thomas and Anthony Scalia. Research the educational and professional lives of these men and evaluate whether their personal histories and experiences correspond to their contemporary political views.
  4. The article mentions the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case. Why did proponents of affirmative action consider this case to be groundbreaking? How have universities and colleges changed since the Bakke decision? Write the script for a documentary titled "25 Years Since Bakke."
  5. Read the Supreme Court's decisions and dissenting opinions on the University of Michigan cases. After reading these primary sources, write an analysis of the state of affirmative action in the 21st century. The text of the law school case ruling can be found at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/02pdf/02-241.pdf. The text of the undergraduate ruling can be found at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/02pdf/02-516.pdf. The transcript of the arguments in both cases can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/01/politics/02TEXT1.html (free registration with NYTimes.com is required to access the argument transcripts.)

Economics- What is financial aid? Consult with a local college's financial aid or admissions department to find out how financial aid is awarded to students, what the criteria are to be eligible for aid, and what the differences are among scholarships, grants, loans and work-study programs. Create an informative brochure for college-bound seniors that includes your findings.

Mathematics- Choose one school from each of the following categories: private liberal arts college, private university, state university, single-sex college and technical college. Research the total enrollment of each school you have chosen, and then the percentage of racial minorities attending each school. How do the numbers compare among the different schools? Public versus private? Co-ed versus single sex? Technical versus academic? Create a series of graphs to illustrate your findings.

Copyright 2003
The New York Times Company


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