Highlighting the specific necessity of affirmative action in law school admissions, the Black Law Students Associations from Yale, Harvard and Stanford law schools filed a brief with the Supreme Court Tuesday in defense of the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action policies.
The decision in the Grutter v. Bollinger case, which the Supreme Court will hear on April 1, is likely to have ramifications for law schools nationwide. Yale Law School administrators and students said they are concerned that the government may use federal funding to control affirmative action policies at private law schools. A Supreme Court decision outlawing affirmative action programs may force the Yale Law School to change its current admissions policy or risk losing $300 million in federal funding under Title VI. The statue prohibits race-based discrimination in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.
Travis LeBlanc LAW ’03, one of the BLSA co-writers, said the organization decided to file its own brief out of concern that the undergraduate case had become too intertwined with the law school case, hiding the special problems with disallowing affirmative action at the law school level. The brief argues that law schools have an even more pressing need for affirmative action because the small size of law school classes make it more difficult to create diverse student bodies.
“We have a special voice in the national debate that isn’t being heard,” LeBlanc said. “When the affirmative action debate is conflated to include law schools, the distribution of minority students at law schools is ignored.”
George W. Jones LAW ’80, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who collaborated on the brief, said he believes the Supreme Court will focus on the Title VI question, not the 14th Amendment –which affirmative action opponents often point to for evidence against the practice.
In the Grutter v. Bollinger case, a former Michigan law school applicant argued she had been denied admission, partly because she was white. The Supreme Court will hear that case together with the Gratz v. Bollinger case, which addresses affirmative action at the undergraduate level. Yale, in collaboration with several peer institutions, filed a separate brief yesterday supporting Michigan’s affirmative action policies.
“No university in America will be invulnerable to challenge if the Supreme Court denies legal legitimacy to the use of race as one factor among others in admissions decisions,” Yale Law School Dean Anthony Kronman said.
LeBlanc said admission to the top law schools serves as a gateway to the most prestigious judicial positions and faculty appointments. He said affirmative action is critical for developing leaders and policy-makers of many races. Eight of the nine current Supreme Court justices are graduates of Yale, Harvard or Stanford law schools.
“Without affirmative action, a glass ceiling is imposed on disadvantaged minorities,” LeBlanc said. “Black enrollment at the most selective law schools will drop from 13 percent to 1.2 percent if affirmative action ends.”
The students from Yale, Harvard and Stanford collaborated with attorneys from several prominent New York and Washington, D.C. law firms, including former President Bill Clinton’s Deputy White House Counsel, Cheryl Mills. Jones said the students had proven why affirmative action must be kept at the nation’s top law schools.
“The talent, character and discipline of the law students over the past weekend in writing the brief convinces me that Harvard, Yale and Stanford law schools would be poorer places without minority students,” Jones said.
As a student at Yale Law School, Jones helped write a brief in the 1978 Regents of the University of California v. Bakke case, which forbade public universities and government organizations from using racial quotas, but allowed the use of race as one factor in admissions decisions.
LeBlanc said over 70 briefs have been written in support of the University of Michigan’s policy. According to the Center for Individual Rights, over 20 briefs have been filed against Michigan’s policies, including one filed by the United States government. In a Jan. 15th statement, President George W. Bush ’68 said the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies were fundamentally flawed because they unfairly judge prospective students based on their race.