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U-M asks Supreme Court not to overturn Bakke decision

The University, in briefs filed Oct. 29 with the Supreme Court of the United States, urged the court not to overturn its historic 1978 Bakke decision allowing the consideration of race in university admissions.

U-M is responding to petitions filed by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) asking the Supreme Court to overrule victories by the University in the Law School case (Grutter) and undergraduate admissions case (Gratz), as well as a separate petition filed by minority student intervenors in Gratz. Previously, U-M's current admissions policies were upheld by the full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Grutter and by the Federal District Court in Gratz.

"We're urging the court not to turn back the clock on our ability to assemble a diverse student body," President Mary Sue Coleman says. "Universities have relied upon this important Supreme Court precedent for a quarter of a century. A decision reversing Bakke would severely impoverish our higher education system."

Marvin Krislov, vice president and general counsel, says the courts have been fairly consistent in applying the Bakke standard, which allows the consideration of race as one factor in a competitive admissions system.

"The University of Michigan won an unequivocal victory in the 6th Circuit, which appropriately relied on the standards established in the Bakke case," Krislov says. "In its petition, CIR has overstated the divisions on this issue in the lower courts. In addition, the Supreme Court itself has issued a number of decisions over the years that reinforce parts of the Bakke decision."

In its response in the Grutter case, the University writes that the 6th Circuit properly held that U-M's admissions practices in the Law School are "virtually indistinguishable" from the Harvard policy specifically endorsed by a majority of justices in Bakke. CIR "therefore cannot prevail in this litigation unless the square holding of Bakke is overruled," according to the response. "The petition offers this court no persuasive justification for making such a radical and disruptive break with settled precedent."

The University's response also notes that the "petitioners do not even challenge [Bakke's] underlying rationalethat there are important educational benefits associated with learning in a diverse, racially integrated environment."

A Supreme Court decision overruling Bakke "would produce the immediate resegregation of manyand perhaps mostof this nation's finest and most selective institutions," the U-M response states. A prohibition on the consideration of race in admissions could, for example, cut the representation of African American students at selective universities by more than two-thirds, and at accredited law schools by more than three-fourths.

In a petition filed Oct. 1, CIR also asked the Supreme Court to take the unusual step of hearing the Gratz case even though the 6th Circuit has not yet issued a decision in the undergraduate admissions case. The intervenors in Gratz filed their own petition seeking a Supreme Court hearing. The University responded with similar arguments as in the Grutter motion about not overturning Bakke.

"However, if the court decides for any reason to review either one of these cases, we believe it should hear both cases together," Krislov says. "Taken together, the cases provide examples of admissions systems at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and of the broad spectrum of educational benefits that flow from diversity throughout higher education."

Coleman emphasizes that the University is firmly committed to achieving a diverse learning environment while continuing its high standards of academic excellence. "We recognize the national significance of these cases," she says, "and we're determined to defend our policies through to the end. If the Supreme Court should decide to hear these cases, we feel confident that we'll win once again. We have presented compelling evidence of the importance of diversity to our educational mission, and of the consequences if we should have to abandon our very sound and thoughtful policies."

To read the UniversityÍs response to the Supreme Court, go to http://www.umich.edu/%7Eurel/admissions/new/.

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