February 26, 2003

Law Students Submit Brief

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Nearly 14,000 law school students from institutions nationwide filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court last Tuesday in the University of Michigan Law School case, Grutter v. Bollinger. The brief supports the use of race as a factor in law school admissions practices.

The 13,922 students, from 143 American Bar Association-accredited law schools in 41 states and the District of Columbia, signed the brief according to a press release from the Law Students for Diversity in Higher Education. This number includes approximately 100 Cornell law students who also participated.

Argument

The brief argues that “the promotion of diversity in higher education is a compelling governmental interest and that the consideration of race as one factor among many in admissions determinations is a permissible means of furthering diversity. Diversity imparts invaluable educational and social benefits to law students.”

This conglomerate of students likely represents the largest group to ever file a joint brief of amici curiae in Supreme Court history, according to David Faurve, third-year Georgetown Law School student and primary draft writer.

He said that the arguments made were not particularly “novel,” but that the power of the brief comes from the “thousands of students of all races” who signed.

Idea

Faurve said that the idea came in December, when it sprung out from a conversation with some of his peers. Soon, Faurve and some friends started to compose the brief. With the help of Georgetown Profs. Julie R. O’Sullivan and Peter J. Rubin, law, they were able to finalize the brief’s message and spread the word around to other schools.

“We started to organize with the goal of having every law school involved,” Faurve said.

The students communicated with national groups across the country and contacted peers from other schools as well. Faurve said that many students were “excited about the idea.”

Effort

Robert Dominguez grad, president of Cornell’s Latino American Law Student Association, learned about the brief in an e-mail from Georgetown students. He then decided to spearhead the effort on campus and coordinated with other groups within the law school in January.

Dominguez sent out an e-mail informing his peers about the brief. After receiving the e-mail, many law students signed on during a one-day period, including Jon Adler grad.

According to Adler, in comparison to other briefs, the document contains a narrower message that concerns “compelling governmental interest,” where diversity in higher education is argued to be a strong enough issue for continuing to support racial considerations in admissions processes.

Keeping affirmative action and promoting diversity “is important in an academic leader like Cornell. It affects all universities,” Adler said.

Even though Dominguez calls this a “contentious issue” around the law school, others feel that students for the most part endorse using race as a factor in admissions decisions.

“I think most of the school supports it,” said Danielle Fenn grad, a signatory of the brief.

This friend-of-the-court brief coincides with hundreds of groups and individuals submitting their own views on the use of race in college admissions policies. Corporations, current senators and even Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf are among the parties and individuals who filed briefs with the Supreme Court prior to last Tuesday’s midnight deadline.

Two weeks ago, the University also filed a joint amici brief with Vanderbilt, Rice, Georgetown and Columbia supporting Michigan Law School’s admissions policies.

Filed by white applicants who oppose Michigan’s controversial point-based affirmative action policy, Grutter v. Bollinger will be heard starting April 1. President-elect Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77, current dean of the University of Michigan Law School, is a named defendant in the case.

The 1978 California Regents v. Bakke case provides the most well-known justification of affirmative action practices, where the Court decided that race can be used as a “plus factor” in admissions.

University administrators are generally pleased with the participation of the student body. Although he has not read the brief, Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, said that the University is “delighted that Cornell law students have been involved in this effort.”

Faurve is afraid that a decision for the plaintiff might change learning nationwide and claims that the consequences of a possible defeat would be “harmful to education and harmful to the nation.”

“If the Supreme Court overturns [the California Regents v. Bakke case], I fear the decision will be instituted nationwide and could slam the door in a lot of people’s faces,” Dominguez said.


Archived article by Brian Tsao