Georgetown University Law Center students joined law students of over 100 schools nationwide by filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, the University of Michigan Law School affirmative action case, siding with the respondents to uphold current affirmative action practices. The brief has received over 2,000 signatures thus far.

The brief will support the use of race as one of many factors in determining law school admissions by arguing that diversity is a “compelling governmental interest” and that a diverse student body provides educational enrichment for law school students.

“We believe that the overwhelming support shown by law students across the country for diversity in higher education will convince the court that diversity is a compelling governmental interest and that the use of race to achieve that goal is permissible under the Constitution,” David Fauvre, a third-year law student at Georgetown who led the drafting efforts, said.

The affirmative action case, which will be heard by the high court on Apr. 1, will be one of the most important civil rights cases in the last 25 years, according to Fauvre. The justices will determine if white students who applied to the University of ichigan Law School were unconstitutionally denied admission because of their race.

In Mar. 2001, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed the law school’s arguments that affirmative action was needed to “level the playing field,” ruling that “an admissions policy that treats any applicants different from others on account of their race is unfair and unconstitutional.” However, a different case in Friedman’s district recently upheld affirmative action programs for undergraduate admission at the University of Michigan.

In Supreme Court cases, parties with legal expertise can submit a brief of amici curiae (Latin for “friends of the court”) to highlight additional arguments in support of either side.

“Because law students are uniquely affected by this case and because they have a particular expertise about the benefits that accrue from education as part of a racially diverse student body, we believe this brief will put forward a very powerful statement and a persuasive legal argument about the value of diversity in higher education,” Fauvre said.

Professor Julie R. O’Sullivan supervised the drafting of the brief and will serve as Counsel of Record on the brief. However, the Georgetown University administration has neither written nor joined in support of the plaintiffs or respondents with an amicus brief.

“We’re certainly interested in the outcomes of these [cases]. Since they involve an individual university’s practices, we’re evaluating them and the range of amicus briefs being written to determine whether or not we will take a formal position or join onto another brief,” Julie Green Bataille, assistant vice president for communications, said.

The law students’ brief was unique in its focus, according to Fauvre, which explained the high volume of signatures it has received.

“Our brief focuses on a very narrow issue: why diversity is a compelling governmental interest. I think the large numbers of signatures gathered across the country makes our brief unique,” Gretchen Rohr, a Georgetown law student who assisted in drafting the brief, said. “I hope our brief will provide some empirical support.”

Rohr said that she has seen diversity enhance her own legal education in the classroom. “In my International Women’s Human Rights Clinic last year there were two white students, two African Americans, two Korean Americans and two Southeast Asian American students – this was not likely a product of affirmative action but of good fortune,” Rohr said. “I think we all grew tremendously from sharing experiences from our own personal backgrounds.”

Green Bataille said that Georgetown has long supported affirmative action programs in order to enhance experience of the student body and the atmosphere of the campus community.

“It’s very important to take a wide variety of factors, including race, into account in order to have a diverse student body,” she said. “This adds a tremendous amount to the educational experience of our students and is something that we need to maintain especially as our nation’s population becomes more and more diverse.”

Green Bataille emphasized the necessity that the university continues to implement affirmative action. “Our admissions practice now is consistent with the law and evaluates applicants based on a wide variety of factors including academic and personal life experiences that depict the entire character of applicants,” she said. “It’s important that we be able to continue to do this.”

Rohr agreed. “The quality of our education is threatened by their [the plaintiff’s] action,” she said. “I hope the Supreme Court will consider the impact their decision has on all of us who either directly benefit from affirmative action or indirectly benefit from learning about the law in a racially diversified setting.”

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