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Updated 1:00 PM June 24, 2003



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The legal team: Evan Caminker

When Evan Caminker taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, he learned some worthwhile and sometimes unexpected lessons about the importance of diversity in the classroom.
Law School Dean-elect Evan Caminker during a pre-Supreme Court practice session. (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

After the O.J. Simpson case, one of Caminker's law classes discussed the issue of jury nullification, the idea that jurors acquit a defendant based on their belief that the law is wrong or the police have misbehaved. Two African American students weighed into the conversation, based on the assumption that jury nullification had taken place in the case. Each took a different side as to whether it was a good or a bad thing.

The debate illustrated for him that it is vital to have a critical mass of people with diverse backgrounds. It is important to have different experiences and perspectives inform complex issues of law and society, he says. A critical mass also is necessary "so that students in the classroom see, in fact, that there's not an African American view on things," he says.

Caminker left UCLA for U-M in 1999. Later, after he was named associate dean for academic affairs of the Law School and after the 2001 district court decision in the graduate school's case, he became actively involved in the affirmative action lawsuit as the Law School's point person for the legal briefs in that case.

Now the dean-elect of the Law School, Caminker's passionate defense of the University's admissions policies is influenced by his experiences in the classroom, both at UCLA and U-M. In Caminker's mind, diversity in the classroom is vital—but not for the reason many people assume.

"There is a misconception that the University believes people of different races think differently. In my view, that would be an inappropriate stereotype," he says. "We do believe that people of different races and backgrounds have different experiences."

After he came to U-M, Caminker took a leave from the University for a year to work as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice in Washington. He has practiced with the Center for Law in the Public Interest in Los Angeles and with Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, D.C. He also was a clerk for Judge William Norris of the Ninth Circuit and for then-Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.

During the clerkship for Brennan, he gained knowledge that would help with the U-M case. "I learned a lot about the way the court looks at issues," he says. It's useful to know, for instance, what kinds of issues might worry or interest justices thought to be potential swing voters. "It helps you have an idea of what issues you want to emphasize," he says.

Caminker's work on the case earned praise from Maureen Mahoney, the attorney who argued the University's position in the Law School suit. "He made major contributions to the case. He's brilliant, and he had some creative ideas," she says.

The photographs and wall hangings in Caminker's Hutchins Hall office hint at his wide range of interests, from the signed photograph of Justice Brennan to the Elvis clock with swinging legs to the pictures of his baby daughter, Jessica, who was born a couple of weeks before the Supreme Court brief was due. Even before she was born, Caminker already had many sleepless nights.

"I may be one of the first fathers in modern history whose sleep wasn't affected by the birth of a baby," he says.

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