In Grutter’s case, the high court endorsed the use of affirmative action to achieve a “critical mass” of minority-student enrollment. The sum result of Gratz’s and Grutter’s cases amounted to an emphatic endorsement of affirmative action in admissions. The decisions were huge. They not only reaffirmed the use of affirmative action — which had flourished in the quarter-century since the Supreme Court ruled against a rejected white applicant, Allan Bakke, who had sued the regents of the University of California — but also expanded the conditions under which race could be considered.
The defeat rankled Grutter. Two months later, an impassioned column Grutter wrote was published in the National Review Online. In the piece, she called the ruling “neither wise nor just.”
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.”
“He barely tolerates it,” she says with a giggle. “Kind of like the Supreme Court with racial preferences. How’s that for tying it all together?”
She never anticipated this cause becoming her life. But it had.
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.
She helped win victories in a handful of states, reducing race and gender preferences in education, employment and contracting. From time to time, someone would approach her about running for office. In 2007, she says, a big wheel in Michigan’s Republican Party even gauged her interest in running for the U.S. Senate. Nah, she thought. She’d seen how ugly politics could get.
Even when she thought she’d just blend in, when it felt as if the years had wiped her name from the collective consciousness, her notoriety would follow her. She’d meet an attorney or an activist, and there would be a double-take. “Gratz, Gratz,” people would say. “Why do I know that name?” It happened just a few days ago at a cocktail party in Naples, Fla., where a friend introduced her to another guest. She saw that familiar look on his face, that instant when she could tell he was scrolling through reference points in his mind. “Gratz!” he exclaimed. “As in Gratz versus Bollinger?”
“I turn a little pink,” she says.
In the end, though, it wasn’t those bursts of recognition that have steered her. It’s what she recognizes about herself: Affirmative action is her thing. Last year, she set in motion a group to push the issue further, the XIV Foundation, named for the 14th Amendment.
“Universities will hold on to these decisions for as long as they are comfortable,” Gratz says. “Our side has to find ways to make it uncomfortable for university administrators to socially engineer their campuses based on race.”
She’s planning projects related to next year’s 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. “I believe the dream of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was colorblind government,” she says. “I’m not sure we’re on the right path to truly colorblind government.”
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.