Yale Black Law Students Association Submits Brief to Supreme Court
The Yale Black Law Students Association co-wrote an amici curiae brief for the Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger, which will determine whether affirmative action policies for admission to the University of Michigan Law School are constitutional. The other organizations participating in the brief were the BLSAs at Harvard and Stanford law schools.
Grutter v. Bollinger is one of two cases on affirmative action in higher education scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on April 1. The plaintiffs, who are white, argue that the University of Michigan's use of race as one factor in admissions decisions discriminates against them. The university defends its practice as a narrowly tailored program to increase diversity on campus.
The BLSA brief was written to support the university's case. It is one of about forty briefs submitted on the respondent's side by corporations, educational institutions, and individuals. Yale University signed onto a brief with several other universities supporting the right of institutions of higher education to consider race as one factor in their admissions systems, and YLS Dean Anthony T. Kronman added his name to a brief submitted by several law school deans across the country. The BLSA brief adds the perspective of current African-American law students to this influential case. (You can read the brief by following the link at the bottom of this page.)
According to Travis LeBlanc '03, one of the authors of the brief, there was a significant reason for the law students of Harvard, Stanford, and Yale to come together. "Eight out of the nine justices on the Supreme Court attended one of our law schools," he explains. "Elite law schools provide a gateway to power and leadership positions in the legal, political, and social communities. The Supreme Court is an obvious example of this."
When the three BLSAs began planning out their brief, although they had this framework of an argument in mind, they had to construct a specific approach for this case and this court. While the technology of the internet, e-mail, and telephone made the collaboration between three far-flung law schools possible, it didn't make it easy to reach consensus.
LeBlanc says, "We had to duke it out and figure out what it is we're trying to do. Part of the challenge was trying to figure out, 'Who are we writing this brief for? Are we writing it for all of the justices? Are we writing it for the reasonable justice? Or are we writing it in particular for Justice O'Connor?'.... Now, 'Can we just write the arguments that persuade us?' We concluded that probably that wouldn't work, that probably what we would have to do is write arguments that the Supreme Court would like... The goal we all agreed to was that every single sentence we write, every single argument we make is supported in empirical data of some sort."
LeBlanc explains that they weren't writing a brief on the merits, which would address all of the legal issues in the case and respond to the other side's arguments, but rather an amici curiae brief, which could focus more on a single issue. "We argue that there is a compelling government interest that is narrowly tailored in using race as one factor among many in admissions, and that Harvard, Stanford, and Yale achieve that, as well as Michigan."
The brief uses a variety of studies to establish that "racial diversity in a student body improves the quality of legal education." It then goes on to argue that diversity in the legal profession is critical to maintaining the credibility of the courts and other institutions, and it looks at how graduates of elite law schools constitute the majority of African American appeals court judges, law firm partners, and law school professors.
"Harvard, Stanford, and Yale have played a critical role in integrating the upper leadership positions in the legal profession," says LeBlanc, "including the Supreme Court, where Clarence Thomas sits, a Yale Law grad."
The final section of the brief combats the argument that various race-neutral approaches to admissions can accomplish adequate gains in diversity. The BLSAs had access to a yet-to-be-published study by Linda Wightman, chair of the Department of Educational Research Methodology at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, to bolster this point. The study looked at "what happens if you move away from race as a factor and you use only numbers to determine admission--that is to say you only look at LSAT and GPA.... It found that at the most selective schools, the percentage of African Americans would drop from 6.7%, what it was in 2000-01, to 1.2 %. And, to us, that's tantamount to the 'inexorable zero.'"