DeFunis v. Odegaard,
416 U.S. 312 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

DeFunis v. Odegaard, 416 U.S. 312 (1974)

DeFunis v. Odegaard

No. 73-235

Argued February 26, 1974

Decided April 23, 1974

416 U.S. 312


After being denied admission to a state-operated law school, petitioner brought this suit on behalf of himself alone for injunctive relief, claiming that the school's admissions policy racially discriminated against him in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The trial court agreed and ordered the school to admit him in the fall of 1971. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, holding that the school's admissions policy was not unconstitutional. MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, as Circuit Justice, stayed that judgment pending this Court's final disposition of the case, with the result that petitioner was in his final school year when this Court considered his petition for certiorari. After oral argument, the Court was informed that petitioner had registered for his final quarter. Respondents have assured the Court that this registration is fully effective regardless of the ultimate disposition of the case.

Held: Because petitioner will complete law school at the end of the term for which he has registered regardless of any decision this Court might reach on the merits, the Court cannot, consistently with the limitations of Art. III of the Constitution, consider the substantive constitutional issues, and the case is moot.

(a) Mootness here does not depend upon a "voluntary cessation" of the school's admissions practices, but upon the simple fact that petitioner is in his final term, and the school's fixed policy to permit him to complete the term.

(b) The case presents no question that is "capable of repetition, yet evading review," since petitioner will never again have to go through the school's admissions process, and since it does not follow that the issue petitioner raises will in the future evade review merely because this case did not reach the Court until the eve of petitioner's graduation.

82 Wash.2d 11, 507 P.2d 1169, vacated and remanded.

Page 416 U. S. 314

Primary Holding

Mootness ends a case when the parties no longer have opposing legal interests or any concrete or definite controversy between them.


DeFunis was denied admission at the University of Washington Law School, a state-operated institution. He sued a state education official, Odegaard, as well as the law school admissions committee on the basis that it had violated the Equal Protection Clause because its policies and procedures had resulted in discrimination against him because of his race. He sought a mandatory injunction from the trial court that would compel Odegaard to grant him admission into the first-year law school class because his application had been unconstitutionally denied. He prevailed in the lower court and was admitted to the law school, pending Odegaard's appeal. The state Supreme Court eventually ruled that the law school admissions policy was constitutional.

DeFunis received a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court, which stayed the judgment of the Washington Supreme Court until the U.S. Supreme Court had resolved the case. DeFunis was already in his third and final year of law school when the Court granted his petition.


Per Curiam

No matter the decision that the Court might eventually reach on the constitutionality of the admissions policy, the student will complete his law school program at the end of the current term, for which he has already registered. This factual situation makes the case moot, and Article III prevents the Court from reviewing the substantive constitutional questions associated with it.


  • William Orville Douglas (Author)

It is important to resolve these issues on their merits, so the case should not be deemed to be moot.


  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)

It is possible that the student might not graduate after this term because of illness or another unforeseen development. The case thus should not be deemed moot. Moreover, the voluntary cessation of illegal conduct does not allow a party to cite this doctrine. The same issue could arise again with another applicant of the same race to whom the school applies the same policy, and the public interest would be served by a judicial resolution of these issues that forestalls duplicative litigation. It is inevitable that another similar case will arise in the future, and the record does not require a finding of mootness. The principle of avoiding constitutional questions when possible does not equate to avoidance of all potentially challenging issues.

Case Commentary

Mootness is the opposite of ripeness in a sense, since it applies to dismiss a case when the issues have been resolved rather than when they are not yet ready to be resolved.

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