Constitutional Faces: Jennifer Gratz

June 24th, 2013

The Washington Post profiles the eponymous plaintiff in Gratz v. Bollinger:

For Gratz, it all started one day in the summer of 1997, when she came home to the Detroit suburbs from the Michigan summer camp where she’d been working. Her father had spotted a newspaper article about the use of affirmative action in University of Michigan admissions. He brought it up casually, Gratz recalls. He thought his daughter, who is white, had moved on from the pain of being rejected by the university two years earlier.

Wow, was he wrong.

Gratz, then 18, chased down the author of the article. She dug up contact numbers. She called lawyers and state representatives. She had to do something.

She fell in with attorneys who had been challenging affirmative action policies. “I thought I’d end up stuffing envelopes,” she recalls. She ended up becoming their star plaintiff.

While Gratz worked on a math degree at the University of Michigan at Dearborn, her real passions were directed toward her lawsuit. On campus, all her professors knew that she was at the center of a major legal fight — the camera crews that trailed her around the school might have been a tip-off.

There was a lower-court win, but on June 23, 2003 — almost exactly a decade ago — the Supreme Court had its say. And what it said filled her with pique.

Gratz was the winner, whose cause ended up being the loser. The court sided with Gratz, saying that she’d been discriminated against because the University of Michigan’s system of assigning bonus points in its ranking to minority applicants was too “mechanistic.” But Gratz’s case got lumped with another case — filed by Barbara Grutter, an applicant to the university’s law school.

By the time the court had ruled in their cases, Gratz had gotten married, moved to San Diego and launched her career as a computer software expert. Her wedding was just six months before the Supreme Court’s ruling, and she decided to keep her maiden name rather than put her attorneys through the considerable trouble of filing paperwork to reflect a name change. Later, once her name became associated with ballot campaigns against racial preferences in school admissions and government hiring, it made practical sense to retain the familiar moniker. To this day, she says, people sometimes unknowingly call her husband “Mr. Gratz.”

In the days after the court ruled in 2003, the sting of the decision was too much. She told her husband that she was quitting her job and going back to Michigan to work on the issue that consumed her so. Gratz was soon jetting around the country, pushing for state ballot initiatives to accomplish what her lawsuit could not.

It seems she has turned from brewing constitutional cases to brewing beer:

It will be easy for her to figure out how to celebrate her victories in years to come: with something cold. She and her husband just opened a new business near their home in southwest Florida: a microbrewery.