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Updated 1:00 PM June 24, 2003



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The legal team: Maureen Mahoney

To augment the legal team defending the admissions cases, the University last year searched for someone with experience at the highest level.

U-M turned to Maureen Mahoney. Not only had she argued 11 cases before the Supreme Court, she had a highly successful track record before the high court, arguing on the winning side in 10.
Attorney Maureen Mahoney, shown here during a practice session, defended the Law School case before the Supreme Court. (Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

Some court observers said it was a strange pairing because Mahoney is a Republican and has represented such high-profile clients as the House of Representatives when Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House. "Mahoney is an unusual pick," an American Lawyer Media article said when it was announced that she had joined U-M's defense team.

Not so, Mahoney says. "I'm a Republican, and there's a common misconception that all Republicans oppose affirmative action," she says. "I care deeply about this case."

In addition to her work on 12 cases, she is familiar with the workings of the court from her time as a clerk for William Rehnquist, now the chief justice of the United States, who was an associate justice when she clerked for him.

"He was an absolutely wonderful boss," she says. "I'm always aware that he was my boss, and I want him to respect my work."

Though Rehnquist was not considered a likely supporter of the University's position, Mahoney says she went into the court April 1 with the goal of swaying him and the rest of the justices. "I tried to get all nine votes," she says.

During the Supreme Court arguments, Mahoney said the government has a "compelling interest in having an institution that is both academically excellent and racially diverse" and that future leaders must be exposed to people of differing viewpoints and backgrounds.

Justices questioned Mahoney about whether the Law School has a "disguised quota" in its admissions policies. She responded repeatedly that there is no quota, minimum number or fixed number of spaces for minority applicants.

Justices also questioned why the Law School doesn't just lower its standards as a way of creating a diverse student body. U-M's brief in the case addresses the suggestion that the Law School "could magically resolve" this issue by easing admissions requirements for all students. "That is a fantasy," the brief says. To create meaningful racial diversity in that way, the document says, would require an abandonment of academic excellence.

The 50-page brief is Mahoney's creation, says Evan Caminker, dean-elect of the Law School, who worked with Mahoney on the case. "It's a work of art," he says.

Mahoney is a partner in the Washington office of Latham & Watkins, and she leads the firm's appellate and constitutional practice. During the administration of President George H.W. Bush, she was appointed a U.S. deputy solicitor general. He nominated Mahoney to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, but the Senate did not act on her nomination before the end of Bush's term.

In two of her previous arguments before the Supreme Court, she successfully defended a challenge to U.S. immigration policies, and she was on the winning side in the House of Representatives' successful challenge to the Commerce Department's use of sampling in the 2000 election.

While those cases were well known and highly publicized, the U-M case has surpassed them both, she says. "I think this one has gotten more attention," she says. "It has a tremendous effect on so many people."

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