The University Record, June 4, 2001

Wide range of groups supporting affirmative action cases

By Julie Peterson
Office of the Vice President for Communications

A “stunning array” of organizations representing business, labor, public officials, higher education and the legal profession has filed legal briefs in support of the University’s affirmative action policies in admissions, President Lee C. Bollinger announced.

The groups—which include 33 of the world’s largest companies, the United Auto Workers, the American Bar Association (ABA), the National Organization for Women Legal Defense Fund and several high-profile Michigan lawmakers—filed amicus, or “friend of the court,” briefs in the University’s appeal of Grutter v. Bollinger. On March 27, federal District Court Judge Bernard Friedman ruled that the Law School’s admissions policy, which considers the applicant’s race as one factor in admissions decisions, is unconstitutional. The case is on appeal in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Many of the amicus supporters also will file briefs on behalf of the University in the undergraduate admissions lawsuit, Gratz v. Bollinger, around June 13. Judge Patrick Duggan upheld the University’s policies in his Dec. 13 decision.

“I am deeply gratified at this stunning array of support for our position,” Bollinger said. “More than 80 groups have joined amicus briefs on our behalf. It is significant that these groups include both the largest corporations and one of the most influential labor unions. The groups represent women and Asian students, and virtually every university and legal education organization.

“It is a reaffirmation of the widespread public support that exists for our policies and the overwhelming belief that we must continue to educate a diverse group of students in our law schools and in our universities generally.”

Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman indicated that the American Bar Association amicus brief is especially significant. “Typically, the ABA files in the court likely to be the last venue for a matter. While there is a strong likelihood the Supreme Court will ultimately take this case, the association filed here because of the critical importance to the profession and the nation of preserving diversity in law schools.”

In its brief, the ABA writes that it has, “for more than three decades, promoted and defended racial and ethnic diversity as crucially important to legal education, the practice of law and the administration of justice. The district court’s decision undermines not only the quality of legal education, but also the country’s ability to ensure equal justice and the rule of law.”

An ABA commission recently found that only about 10 percent of lawyers are minorities, minority entry into the profession has slowed considerably since 1995, and minority representation in senior legal positions remains minuscule. Courts, the brief notes, have widely recognized the need to address the lack of diversity in the legal profession. “Without diversity in legal education,” the brief says, “there can be no diversity in the legal profession or the judicial system.

“Diversity of the bar is essential to fulfilling the bar’s paramount purpose of providing (legal) representation to all,” the ABA writes. Furthermore, “diversity is fundamental to fostering and maintaining the public’s perception that our legal system is fair, unbiased and inclusive, thereby preserving and enhancing the public’s trust and confidence in our system of government.”

General Motors Corp. and Steelcase Inc., which earlier led the filing of amicus briefs on behalf of 21 multinational companies, have filed new briefs along with 12 other corporations, including American Airlines, Boeing, Mitsubishi, United Airlines and the Coca-Cola Co. In their briefs, the corporations note that almost half of the U.S. population will be made up of minorities by the year 2050.

“The nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas and mores of a diverse student body,” they write. Essential skills for future business leaders include “the ability to understand, learn from, work and build consensus with individuals from different backgrounds and cultures.”

Regarding the UAW brief, President Stephen P. Yokich noted, “The UAW is more than a collective bargaining agent, we are part of a social movement dedicated to justice and opportunity for all people, no matter their race, gender and religion, sexual orientation, or national origin.

“The UAW has a rich and long history of fighting against discrimination in our union, our workplaces and our society. The overriding lesson of our experience is that appreciating our great racial and cultural diversity is absolutely essential to creating a productive, healthy and dignified work environment—and to creating a fair and just society.”

In a press conference May 30, five Michigan lawmakers announced they are urging the federal appeals court to uphold affirmative action at the University. The five are U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich.; U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich.; state Rep. Kwame M. Kilpatrick, D-Wayne County; Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer; and former U.S. Attorney Saul Green.

In their brief, they warn that “reducing the diversity among the University of Michigan student body likely will deny significant communities within Michigan the ability to fully participate in the political and economic benefits of our society.”

For more information about the two lawsuits, visit the Web at www.umich.edu/~urel/admissions.