The University Record, December 10, 1997

Law School to defend 'appropriate, moderate use of racial diversity'

Editor's Note: The following is a statement released by Law School Dean Jeffrey S. Lehman on Dec. 3, responding to the lawsuit filed by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) on behalf of Barbara Grutter, challenging her denial of admission by claiming that the Law School's admissions policy is unconstitutional.

"Ms. Barbara Grutter has today filed a lawsuit challenging her denial of admission to the University of Michigan Law School, claiming that our admissions policy is unconstitutional. Ms. Grutter is represented by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, which filed a similar lawsuit challenging undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan six weeks ago. This lawsuit is a follow-on to the earlier lawsuit and a predictable part of CIR's nationwide campaign to change the way the Constitution is applied to universities.

"We are confident that our admissions policy is constitutional. It conforms to the requirements of the 14th Amendment as set forth in Justice Powell's opinion in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. We believe that the Supreme Court should not, and will not, use this lawsuit to change the law and prohibit what is now permitted.

"The stakes are high. It has been almost 50 years since the Supreme Court struck down Texas's segregated system of legal education in the case of Sweatt v. Painter. During that half century, the nation's law schools have seen increased racial integration in legal education and throughout the profession.

"The CIR campaign endangers that trend. Recent developments in Texas and California reveal the consequences for society if the CIR approach were to prevail: a devastating reduction in the number of African Americans and Latinos, well qualified for the study and practice of law, who apply to and are subsequently enrolled at the nation's top law schools.

"Of course we appreciate the sense of disappointment that Ms. Grutter must have felt in not being admitted to our law school. Each year, we receive many more applications from well qualified students than we have room for in the entering class. In the end, we are required to reject literally thousands of applications from students of all races who enroll at other law schools and become successful attorneys.

"Since 1859, the University of Michigan Law School has occupied a uniquely important position in the world of legal education, deeply committed to the ideals of diversity, integration, public service and upward mobility through education. Our school feels the weight of responsibility as it exercises judgment in selecting an entering class. We stand behind the judgment that we have exercised. Each and every student whom we admit is highly talented and eagerly sought after by other law schools.

"We believe that the judgment we exercise in admissions is vindicated by the quality of the intellectual experience that our students enjoy, and by the achievements and contributions that our graduates-of all races-have made to our society after leaving Ann Arbor. Minority graduates from our law school have achieved renown throughout society, as holders of federal and state elective office, judges and justices, senior business executives and partners in major law firms.

"Students at the University of Michigan Law School cultivate an essential intellectual quality: the ability to understand an issue from many perspectives at the same time. They do so through their interactions with the faculty and with one another, inside the classroom and outside it.

"For students studying law in 1997, race matters. One's racial background does not preordain one's views on legal subjects. Nevertheless, Americans of different races have different experiences that can lead them to bring different insights and perspectives to the study of issues as diverse as property law, contract law, criminal justice, social welfare policy, civil rights law, voting rights law and the First Amendment. Perhaps just as significantly, students can benefit from classroom encounters with the range of views that can be held by members of a single racial group.

"It must be emphasized that racial diversity is only one of many forms of diversity that we value, and only one of many factors in our admissions decisions. We believe that our classrooms are more effective if they include students from different regions of the country, from different socieoeconomic backgrounds, who have had different kinds of prior academic training and professional experience.

"Our admissions office does not use racial quotas. The percentages of students of different races in our entering classes vary noticeably from year to year. We use diversity as a factor within the larger context of our policy of admitting only students whom we expect to go on to become outstanding lawyers.

"We sympathize with the desire to imagine a world in which a citizen's race would have no impact on his or her opportunities, academic preparation, life experiences or institutional relationships. We believe, however, that construing the Constitution to prohibit law schools such as Michigan from enrolling racially diverse classes in 1997 would arrest progress toward such a world.

"In defending this lawsuit, the University of Michigan Law School will defend the ability of law schools to make appropriate, moderate use of racial diversity as one of many factors in admissions. In doing so, we shall defend our goal of providing our society with lawyers who are fully equipped to serve as reflective and completely educated leaders."

See statement on the law school admissions policy.

See related article.