Court of Appeals Grants Intervention Motion Filed by Coalition of Civil Rights Groups in University of Michigan Lawsuit

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
August 10, 1999 12:00 am

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DETROIT — A federal appeals court ruled today that African-American and Latino high school students have a “direct and substantial” interest in the outcome of a lawsuit over the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies.

“We are gratified that the Appellate Court has ensured that the voices of black and Latino students will be heard in this case that ultimately may determine their educational futures,” said Theodore M. Shaw, Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Michael Steinberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan, also welcomed the ruling. “The sad truth is that racial discrimination in America is not just a thing of the past,” he said. “The Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause does not bar universities from pursuing diversity.”

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the denial of a motion to intervene by a district court in Michigan. The motion had been filled by a coalition that includes the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the Citizens for Affirmative Action’s Preservation (a group of Detroit-area parents, students, individuals, and organizations) (CAAP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) on behalf of African-American and Latino students.

The coalition asserted that intervention should be granted because African-American and Latino students had a substantial interest in intervening in the lawsuit (Gratz et al. v. Bollinger, Civil Action No. 97-75321).

In the lawsuit, two white students denied admission to the University claim that the University’s admission policies violate the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But although the plaintiffs claim to support equal opportunity, the coalition members argued, through this lawsuit they have, in fact, launched an all-out attack on one of the fairest, most effective tools for ending discrimination.

The Sixth Circuit today accepted the coalition’s argument, holding that, if the plaintiffs were to prevail in their suit “[t]here is little room for doubt that access to the University for African-American and Latino/a students will be impaired to some extent and a substantial decline in the enrollment of these students may well result.”

The Court also agreed with the coalition that “the University is unlikely to present evidence of past discrimination by the University itself or of the disparate impact of some current admissions criteria, and that these may be important and relevant factors in determining the legality of a race-conscious admissions policy.”

“Today’s appellate ruling gives us the opportunity to demonstrate in court why affirmative action programs like those at flagship institutions like Michigan are critically needed to provide the Latino community with hope for future educational achievement and success in life,” said Patricia Mendoza, MALDEF regional counsel in Chicago.

Godfrey Dillard, a CAAP lawyer, said, “We welcome the opportunity to present evidence and to participate as equal parties in this vitally important case.”

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