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Updated 1:00 PM June 24, 2003



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The legal team: Marvin Krislov

For as long as Vice President and General Counsel Marvin Krislov has been an attorney, the cause of affirmative action has been part of his life. But his interest in the issue goes back further than his professional career. Krislov recalls growing up in racially segregated Lexington, Ky., and the hate calls that came to his home after his mother spoke out against segregation in the schools.
Marvin Krislov works the phones in the press room in Washington, D.C., April 1. (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

"I remember my mother stood up at a school board meeting and talked about how 'we can't brush these problems under the carpet.' She recognized that the lack of integrated education, and inferior schooling opportunities for minorities had repercussions at many levels of society beyond the classroom," Krislov says. "I grew up very much aware that Lexington was a segregated community and that every member of the community was worse off because of it."

That passion for the cause of affirmative action also won him a first prize in debate as a freshman at Yale University. Krislov recalls that his strong defense of the policy was delivered shortly after the Supreme Court had decided Regents of the University of California v. Bakke—the 1978 precedent-setting case for affirmative action.

"Now, being part of this historic decision is something I'll always remember, and I hope my own children will be the beneficiaries of a positive outcome in the court. Remembering the things I saw as I was growing up, I think that in some ways we've come a long distance but in other ways we really haven't," he says.

Krislov says the opportunity to defend the University's admissions policies was a key factor in his decision to join U-M five years ago. He came to the University from the U.S. Labor Department, where he served as the primary legal advisor to the secretary of labor. Among other responsibilities there, he monitored affirmative action plans for federal institutions. Prior to that, he worked on civil rights issues in the White House Counsel's Office, and he prosecuted those charged with racial or religious violence and acts of police brutality for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
(Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

At the time Krislov was being considered for the U-M job, the University was about a year into defending the admissions lawsuits, and already he and others involved knew the potential existed for the cases to reach the highest court in the land.

"We all knew that it was possible these cases would become landmark," he says. "This is the high point of my career to date, and may be the most significant thing I do in my life, and that's fine—so long as we win," he added with a chuckle in an interview prior to the announcement of the Supreme Court's decision.

At the same time, Krislov says the significance of the cases is both "exciting" and "very frightening."

"There are so many people who really think that the future of the country, and particularly, relations between different races and ethnic groups are on the line here," he says.

Krislov calls himself the "executive producer" of the lawsuits, which he defines as the one who is responsible for the "overall direction and public face of the legal defense." He rattles off the many players who have made up the U-M team, among them: Jonathan Alger, associate general counsel; Liz Barry, former associate general counsel; outside attorneys John Payton and Maureen Mahoney; outgoing Law School Dean Jeffrey Lehman and Associate Dean-elect Evan Caminker; U-M executive officers, including President Mary Sue Coleman and Provost Paul N. Courant; Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Lester Monts; the admissions staff; faculty members who contributed to the body of research supporting affirmative action, including Professor Pat Gurin, and the list goes on. But one point he stresses is that the whole process would not have been possible without support from the Board of Regents.

Asked to identify his most significant individual contribution to the cases, Krislov points to coordinating the submission of 75 different amicus briefs from universities, more than 63 Fortune 500 corporations; labor unions, dozens of civil rights and religious organizations; 23 states; and many members of Congress.

The Supreme Court took particular notice of the brief signed by 29 former high-ranking military leaders, linking the continuation of affirmative action to the nation's security and defense.

"I don't know of anything quite like this that has occurred in terms of a legal matter on a college campus in my lifetime—probably not in a couple of generations—in terms of really bringing people together and helping them define their values publicly, and articulating a position for both a public audience and a legal audience as well."

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