U. Michigan law school trial starts Tuesday
By Jen Fish
Michigan Daily (U. Michigan)
01/12/2001

(U-WIRE) ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Three years of scrutinizing the admissions system and piecing together the arguments for and against affirmative action will come down to 90 hours of courtroom time.

After the long wait, Barbara Grutter v. Lee Bollinger et. al, will finally enter the courtroom on Tuesday.

Set to begin at 9 a.m. in Judge Bernard Friedman's Federal District courtroom in Detroit, each side in the dispute will have 30 hours to present evidence on the following issues:

* The extent to which the Law School takes race into consideration in its policies.

* Whether the Law School policies consist of a double standard that favors less-qualified minority applicants.

* Whether race should be used to offset the advantages caucasian applicants may have in evaluating standardized test scores and grade point averages.

Throughout this process, the University and Center for Individual Rights have clashed over the constitutional question of whether diversity is a "compelling government interest" as outlined by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in the 1978 case University of California Regents v. Bakke.

Friedman indicated at a hearing on two motions for summary judgment last month he would take the question of whether diversity is a compelling government interest under advisement. However, the trial will focus on how race can be applied under the current reading of Bakke.

The University of Michigan's defense, known as the "diversity rationale," has been joined by a coalition of Detroit high school students and civil rights advocates who successfully petitioned to intervene in the case in August 1999.

However, the intervening defendants also contend that affirmative action policies are necessary to remedy past and present discrimination at the University. Specifically, they argue that measures such as the Law School Aptitude Test automatically put minority students at a disadvantage and race must be taken in account to offet those effects.

Lawyers representing the three parties in the case said they were looking forward to the trial after the years of legal maneuvering.

"We are looking forward to the opportunity to show the court and the public that our policy complies with the law and that it produces excellent students and lawyers," Deputy General Counsel Liz Barry said.

Terry Pell, CIR's chief executive officer, echoed similar statements, saying that CIR viewed the trial as a chance to "demonstrate just how big a factor race is in admissions at the Law School."

CIR has contended that the University's policies violate the Constitution and race should never be used as a factor in admissions.

Curt Levey, director of Public and Legal Affairs at CIR added that they were looking forward to cross examining the University's witnesses.

But the party most excited about the the opportunity of a trial is the intervening defendants.

"We're absolutely thrilled about a trial," said Miranda Massie, lead counsel for the Law School intervenors.

"A trial is absolutely necessary to dispel the myth that black and other minority students are unqualified," she said.

The trial is estimated to last no longer than three weeks, and the court is scheduled to hear testimony from Jan. 16 to Jan. 26. and resume on February 5.

MAKING AN ARGUMENT

* Each party in the lawsuit will have 30 hours to present their case, likely involving these witnesses:

* CIR

Alan Stillwagon: Dean of Admissions until 1990.

* University

Lee Bollinger: President of the University, Law School Dean from 1987-1994.

* Intervenors

Connie Escobar: Current Law School student.