The University Record, April 2, 2001

U-M files motion for stay in Law School admissions case

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

The Law School. Photo by Bill Wood, Photo Services
The University has filed a motion with U.S. District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman for a stay of the injunction ordering the Law School to discontinue its use of race as a factor in its admissions decisions. To ensure speedy relief from the judge’s order, the University also will ask the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati for a stay as early as today (April 2).

In an opinion handed down on March 27, Friedman ruled that the Law School’s use of race as a factor in making admissions decisions is unconstitutional.

“There is no question about the long and tragic history of race discrimination in this country,’’ Friedman wrote. However, he held that the Law School’s justification for using race—to assemble a racially diverse student population—is not a compelling state interest. Even if racial diversity were in the state’s interest, Friedman wrote, the Law School has not narrowly tailored its use of race to achieve that interest.

In a statement issued on the day of the ruling, President Lee C. Bollinger said, “Today’s decision conflicts with settled Supreme Court law and the policies of virtually every selective university in the country for nearly 30 years. It rejects Justice Powell’s 1978 opinion in Bakke. It is also contrary to the December decisions of Judge Duggan regarding our undergraduate admissions and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the University of Washington case.

“Our policy is fully constitutional. I remain as confident today as I was in 1992 when our policy was adopted that pursuing educational excellence through diversity is a compelling governmental interest. Like Brown v. Board of Education, the Bakke decision has served our country and our educational institutions well. We must not abandon the course at this stage of our nation’s history.

“We will appeal this decision and are confident that we will prevail in a higher court. We will also seek an immediate stay of the court’s order so that we can continue our efforts to offer an integrated legal education at Michigan.”

The University argued during the trial that race was only one factor considered among many in making admissions decisions. It said that the process is designed to admit comprehensively diverse classes—of which racial and ethnic diversity is an important part—from a pool of academically qualified applicants to achieve its mission of fully educating students for full participation in a heterogeneous democracy and a global economy.

“In this case, we provided the court with overwhelming evidence that racial diversity is critical to a high-quality legal education,” said Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman. “Judge Friedman accepted that evidence and concluded that we have established that racial and ethnic diversity is an ‘important and laudable goal.’

“Judge Friedman erred, however, when he declared that this goal does not justify the competitive consideration of race as a factor in our admissions process. His analysis is squarely inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s holding in Bakke, and we have complete confidence that our position will be vindicated on appeal to the Sixth Circuit.”

On Dec. 13, 2000, Judge Patrick Duggan ruled in a separate case challenging LS&A’s admissions process. He found that the pursuit of the educational benefits of diversity is a compelling governmental interest and that the University’s current admissions policy is fully constitutional.

In response to the decision in the Law School admissions case, Provost Nancy Cantor said, “The University has undertaken the most comprehensive defense of diversity in higher education. The evidence we presented was found to be ‘substantial’ by Judge Duggan and was cited extensively in his December decision upholding our undergraduate admissions policy. We have documented with empirical evidence that racial and ethnic diversity enhance learning and the preparation of our students to work and participate as citizens in our increasingly diverse society.

“Judge Friedman’s ruling interprets our constitution so narrowly as to ignore these profound implications for our democracy. Our policies have been supported by virtually every sector of society, including business, higher education, labor and government. We are confident that we will prevail in a higher court.”

In a separate ruling, Friedman granted qualified immunity to individual defendants in the case: Bollinger, Lehman, former Director of Admissions Dennis Shields and the members of the Board of Regents.

On March 28, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear the University’s appeal in the LS&A admissions case.